Dirty Pretty Things

on July 18, 2003 by Kevin Courrier
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For director Stephen Frears, the plight of immigrants in London certainly isn't virgin territory. He explored the subject with a bold sensuality in 1985's "My Beautiful Launderette." Frears returned (less successfully) a couple of years later with bombastic gusto in "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid" (1987). But those pictures were made during the frosty days of Margaret Thatcher.

In "Dirty Pretty Things," Stephen Frears arrives in post-Thatcher London and dauntlessly seizes on the delicate subject of illegal immigrants--and he does it with a stunning assurance. Frears opens us up to a colorful world in which Chinese, Turks, Africans and Indians, existing in the shadows of mainstream life, find ingenious ways to protect each other from the Immigration authorities. But where most directors would wring their hands over the misery and exploitation of illegals, Frears seizes on their drive rather than their despair. This gives "Dirty Pretty Things" a vitality that's both audacious and tragic.

Take Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a Nigerian doctor who was forced to flee his homeland. He finds himself illegally working two jobs as a cab driver and a night porter at a hotel. Living in dread of being caught, he befriends Senay (Audrey Tautou), a Muslim chambermaid who is eventually forced to take a job at a sweatshop, delivering sexual favors to her boss in exchange for protection. Things only get worse when Okwe discovers that, at the hotel, human organs are being sold by desperate donors trying to get passports and money. "Dirty Pretty Things" is about how Okwe and Senay keep their integrity despite the extreme measures required to help them escape.

Newcomer Chiwetel Ejiofor gives an engaging, and strongly dignified performance that never once becomes pious. Audrey Tautou, who was too self-consciously precious in "Amelie," gives a richer performance here. Tautou's Senay hides her wisdom and beauty behind an invisible veil that Okwe soon parts. "Dirty Pretty Things" is a shimmering gem of a movie. Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tautou and Sergi Lopez. Directed by Stephen Frears. Written by Steven Knight. Produced by Tracey Seaward and Robert Jones. A Miramax release. Drama. Rated R for sexual content, disturbing images and language. Running time: 107 min.

Tags: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tatou, Sergi Lopez, Benedict Wong, sex, conspiracy, immigrants, London, persecution, Stephen Frears
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