Stephen Frears' latest casts a sympathetic gaze on London's disenfranchised immigrants, a multiethnic subculture so far removed from the mainstream that it couldn't even be termed an underclass. They are poor; they have few rights; they are easily exploited by the predators of society. Cinematic explorations of life in the lower depths can be unpleasantly manipulative; see, for example, Lukas Moodysson's recent LILJA 4-EVER, a study of modern-day white slavery, which degenerated into morbid sadism. But Frears, a more capable director, demonstrates a solid grasp of his material, and what results is a fine, touching film.Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a well-controlled performance as Okwe, a doctor from Nigeria now relegated to porter duties at a swank London hotel. He lives in a modest apartment with Senay (Audrey Tautou, also excellent), in a strictly platonic relationship. He's an essentially moral man, she's a devoted Muslim; both find their beliefs tested when they fall into the orbit of a sleazy black marketeer who sells human kidneys, which he extracts from desperate "illegals" in dangerous back-alley operations.
DIRTY PRETTY THINGS--the title refers to the thankless menial jobs the characters perform for the privileged--weaves two disparate threads together: the first is a murder mystery; the second, an overt condemnation of society's mistreatment of these oppressed creatures. Early on, these threads are awkwardly woven together; you sense that Frears is trying to do too much at once. But the film eventually gains its footing. Screenwriter Steve Knight has an authentic sense of outrage; his sympathy for his characters is clear, and it gives the film an uncommon emotional weight. (Incredibly, Knight is also one of the creators of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?") Perhaps he overdoes the pathos here and there, but he stays true to his vision of desperate people in desperate circumstances.
It's a well-made, poignant film that probably could not be made inside the Hollywood system. And that's entirely too bad for us. Currently, DIRTY PRETTY THINGS is playing in exactly two theatres in Los Angeles.I don't know how many theatres are playing BAD BOYS II, but I'm certain the figure is considerably higher. Unfortunately.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Tribeca Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.