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Overall Rating

Awesome: 39.29%
Worth A Look46.43%
Average: 7.14%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 7.14%

5 reviews, 26 user ratings

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Dirty Pretty Things
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by Greg Muskewitz

"Beholding a true beauty."
5 stars

“The hotel business is about strange people who do stranger things,” provokes Sergi López’s hotel manager, appropriately named Sneaky.

Over and over again, theatrical trailers have proved to give away too much. When I went to see Swimming Pool for the third time, there was a preview for Dirty Pretty Things that I promptly ignored (best as I could the others), but with no more vested interest in the film than any other. Of course, it touted the English-spoken role of Audrey Tautou, and it was from director Stephen Frears, who is responsible for several solid films (The Hi-Lo Country, The Grifters, Dangerous Liaisons, Mary Reilly), as well as some critically lauded, but traditional middle-of-the-road movies (High Fidelity, My Beautiful Launderette, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid). But as far as expectations or preconceptions about this film, I knew next door to nothing about it. And for any potential viewer, I would not recommend reading on (anyplace, that is) and simply see it.

The film is dark, quiet, pensive, from its opening frames; it beckons to the audience with an ominous flirt, a dare, to pay attention and learn what’s to happen. Over time we discover that Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is an illegal Nigerian immigrant, living (perhaps more like passing by) in a skuzzy side of London. He drives a cab until the evening hours, and works a graveyard reception shift at the hotel run by Sneaky. A quick ritual is observed as the morning cleaning ladies arrive at work: Senay (Tautou), a Turkish immigrant, haphazardly drops a set of keys which Okwe slyly retrieves. He is renting a couch in her apartment, but being new to the country, she is not yet allowed to be working. Back to Okwe: he shows up to his cab-driving headquarters, seemingly unfatigued, but is called into a back room where he can diagnose his dispatcher as having clap. Later, we learn, he buys a special herb that causes him to keep going without sleep. Back at the hotel, a friendly prostitute alerts him to a mess in one of the rooms; he finds a clogged toilet. Closer examination reveals a human heart to be the stoppage. Okay, so at this point, what exactly is going on, and who is Okwe? Even his employers don’t know so much as his surname. Are these the strange things being done by stranger people? (Or is this the action of a strange person doing stranger things?) Possibly.

Understandably, his curiosity, apposite to our own, brings Okwe to a friend of his, a doctor in a morgue whom he apparently plays chess with on a regular basis. One of the noticeable trends at this point is that no one we have met is of British decent — the Russian greeter, the Chinese doctor, the Spanish hotel manager, the foreign cleaning ladies, the Indian cab drivers, our protagonist. Then comes a stumbling block; immigration services have been made aware of another person in Senay’s apartment and pay a surprise visit. (Nice detail: the officers, in their search, grab an iron and spit on it to check for use.) Okwe narrowly escapes, but now speculation has been cast on her (work being the issue), and she must leave the hotel job for a sweat shop, where once the pair of immigration officers check for her there, she is coerced into giving her boss sexual favors to keep quiet. Okwe’s investigation continues with dead ends until he helps a recent organ-donor with shoddy surgery. His deed does not go unnoticed, with Sneaky beginning his own query. A fugitive doctor, he learns — how convenient; now the strange secrets and secret strangers need not be so hush-hush when the doctor can be of service. Would he be willing to perform organ operations for a set amount of money per surgery, as well as a bonus of a counterfeit passport? The possibility is a dilemma to the Robin Hood outlaw, bound in a selfless debt to Senay who is now in a more precarious situation because of him. Et cetera.

The progressive developments are far from over, they only keep getting better, but total clarity is not needed here. What is clear is that from the film’s outset, Frears attentively and constantly keeps the audience involved. He utilizes or manipulates his viewer into the position of an armchair or stadium-seated detective. You are working as fast to connect the dropped hints and possibilities as Frears (working from a slick, taut script from Steve Knight) is scattering them to be pieced together, mulled over, contemplated. Regardless of when certain connections have been made and insights gained, there is rarely a moment when suspense and wonder are not part of the equation. Dirty Pretty Things is involving in an actively forward movement that has been absent (at least in the way of this film’s consistency) for quite some time. Especially this year. All the way through, the elements of the film that are employed reflect and emanate the thematic devices, which are murky, dank, odious, bleak. (But never so much so as to turn the viewer away.) Admittedly, it takes some energy and interest on the part of the spectator to want to keep up, or simply to allow the pieces to fall in place. Frears has always been a capable director of atmosphere, even in his weakest efforts. He generated the feel of a real western (albeit, a hybridized western) in The Hi-Lo Country; he emulated the lifestyle of a music fanatic in High Fidelity; he worked up some serious heebie-jeebies in Mary Reilly. However, in the past, there’s always been some form of an inconsistency at some point, even if only temporary. With Dirty Pretty Things, its realization is so full, so fulfilled, that there is no break, meaning that it doesn’t ever fall prey to monotony or platitudes. The commitment to the film’s external tonality is constant without drawing attention to itself insofar as one’s focus and concentration are strictly on the plot and its characters.

The filmic flipside — the technical aspect — is so thorough and seamless that you only notice the craftsmanship after the fact. Even with the occasional left over Question Mark (the quick accessibility to plane tickets) or moments of cinematic déjà vu (the bait-and-switch became rather obvious to me, but the scene’s suspense and execution was never diminished), it remains one of the most complete and proficient films of the year. And for all of the know-how and familiarity of Frears, there is no greater unexpected find in the eloquent and crafty performance of Ejiofor, an unknown by my books. (His only recognizable credit is a tiny role in Amistad, although his upcoming film Love, Actually I’ve already heard of.) I feel as though it’s been quite a passage of time since I could so wholeheartedly endorse and be enthusiastic for a male newcomer’s performance as I simultaneously can here. Like Ejiofor’s role (and availability of past roles), Dirty Pretty Things is nonpareil; they remain in a league of their own. They also belong in a very small league for 2003: that which may not be missed.


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originally posted: 12/28/03 22:56:44
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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.

User Comments

7/26/11 mr.mike It failed to hold my interest. 3 stars
7/31/09 ntuthuko I think the movie is prety good cheers. 5 stars
4/27/07 MoMo What an absolute dungfest. Its so cheesy and western, awful. 1 stars
10/25/04 The REAL Tornado Who the hell is using my name?? 1 stars
10/01/04 psycho dwarf Unreal. Ya might call it an Urban Mythic Expose`. But the acting saves iffy storytelling. 4 stars
6/12/04 john bale The plight of illegal immgrants in London's underbelly assured direction of brooding drama 5 stars
6/07/04 Recurring Dream Brilliant - best film i've seen all year 5 stars
5/13/04 tatum Wonderful character study with thriller aspect; Oscar ignored cast! 5 stars
3/26/04 bikehorn Some parts are hard to grasp, but over all a decent film. Tautou is very up and coming. 3 stars
3/25/04 hollywood Great film with relative unknowns. Audrey Tautou will be a major star 5 stars
1/28/04 y2mckay Audrey Tatou looks about as Turkish as I do - but the movie's quite good, esp. Ejiofor 4 stars
1/28/04 irena very unusual representation of a theme, not morbid or depressing at all, yet its critical 4 stars
10/22/03 Tanya 'Tornado' Stork I like Kidney Pie 4 stars
10/03/03 Jin absolutely wonderful 5 stars
9/16/03 Jinnvisible Bigots are starved of the kind of insights woven here. Great Anglo-chinesse porter role 4 stars
9/11/03 carlmzapffe "DIRTY PRETTY THINGS"(2002) 5 stars
9/06/03 Ahnold Better than usual BS seen from Hollywood. Rather put $ in this independent flick. 3 stars
8/30/03 Joey This is what we get, huh? crap 1 stars
8/30/03 Choadushouse Very DIFFERENT. Deeply emotional and REAL feeling. Great round-up end. 4 stars
8/29/03 eugene thought it was great. 5 stars
8/12/03 shelley stults slow start, nice twist in the conclusion 4 stars
8/09/03 Will Green 'tis good, 'tis reccommended. It has a constant pace, and isn't anticlimactic, so... yeah! 3 stars
8/06/03 Babs Intriguing story, not your typical, predictable hollywood pretentious film, its refreshing 5 stars
8/04/03 Kia Ora This movie stays with you for a long time after you leave the theater. 5 stars
7/19/03 BAD bad 1 stars
7/15/03 thejames Intresting flick. I enjoyed watching it. 4 stars
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  18-Jul-2003 (R)
  DVD: 23-Mar-2004


  10-Jun-2004 (MA)

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