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Dirty Pretty Things Review

By Joe Lozito

London Galling


"Dirty Pretty Things" tells the story of Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an illegal Nigerian immigrant in London working as a cabby by day and a hotel clerk by night. During one graveyard shift - he stays awake by chewing mysterious leaves he buys from a local grocer - he discovers a human heart clogging the hotel toilet. He is told by the hotel owner, the aptly named Sneaky, to ignore it, but Okwe, who has a background that slowly comes into focus, cannot let it go.

Director Stephen Frears and writer Steve Knight take the time to develop characters that lazier screenplays gloss over (the doorman, the hooker, the maid) as Okwe slowly uncovers the scheme which led to his discovery in the hotel plumbing. Interestingly, though all the questions are never adequately explained, it becomes unimportant at the end of the film because our focus has shifted to the characters.

Mr. Ejiofor is as natural an actor as Mr. Frears is a director; his Okwe is a study in underplayed repression. What little sleep he gets is at the apartment of a Turkish illegal, Senay (Amelie's Audrey Tautou). Ms. Tautou, with her impossibly dark eyes, would not be my first choice to play a Turkish woman - she struggles with an almost vampiric accent - but her physicality in the role is perfect. She stares only at the ground, clutching her belongings to her body and walking with the stilted gait of a person who never knows what's around each corner. The relationship that forms between her and Okwe is beautifully developed. Also worth mentioning is Sergi Lopez who nearly corners the market on smarm playing Sneaky.

Mr. Frears creates an underground community of "invisible" people - as Okwe puts it, "we're the ones you don't see" - and makes clear the lengths they will go to for citizenship. The story is sometimes harrowing, but it is told with delicacy and skill. Mr. Frears is such a natural director that at times his films almost feel like documentaries. He also tends to specialize in the stories of unusual characters. This combination is what makes "Dirty Pretty Things" so compelling.

What did you think?

Movie title Dirty Pretty Things
Release year 2003
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary The story of illegal immigrants in London and the lengths they will go to for citizenship is told with an understated skill by director Stephen Frears.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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