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Dirty Pretty Things Reviews

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bbcfloridabound
bbcfloridabound

Super Reviewer

March 9, 2012
Another one of those excellent movies that got by me when they first came out. Chiwetel Ejifor plays an excellent part and his acting is way under rated. Film is about illegal immigrants in London and what they have to do in order to live. Okwe was a doctor back in Africa and is now a cab driver and hotel clerk who everyone comes to for help. The hotel owner is moving body parts he takes immigrants and provides them with false papers for a body part. 5 stars
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

August 5, 2011
Over a career spanning 40 years, Stephen Frears has demonstrated versatility in his filmmaking rivalled only by Alan Parker and Ridley Scott. His directorial stamp is so subtle that you would have difficulty convincing the casual viewer that Dangerous Liaisons and High Fidelity were directed by the same man. With Dirty Pretty Things he returns to the gritty territory of My Beautiful Laundrette, and delivers what is possibly his finest film.

It's all too common for a film to boast about its 'gritty realism', with most such boasting being a hopeless cover for a preposterous storyline or sub-par shooting style. But even if Dirty Pretty Things felt the need to boast about such things, there would be no need for it. The world which Frears creates is so readily and shockingly believable that we don't need constant reminders that we are seeing might actually be based on fact.

Like much of his 1980s work, Dirty Pretty Things has an unassuming visual style. Chris Menges, who has worked with Frears extensively since Gumshoe, lights London completely naturalistically, with no effort made to glamorise the characters' surroundings or gloss over the dingier aspects of London. This is not a film which takes on a pertinent and sensitive subject only to hand it with kid gloves: it is frequently painful to watch, but in a way which is ultimately vindicated.

Dirty Pretty Things is about the British underclass of illegal immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, who come over in their thousands ever year to do the jobs that no-one else will do. Though the film is nearly ten years old, the political issues it raises are still big hot potatoes; rarely a week goes by without the Daily Mail bursting blood vessels over immigration numbers or benefit cheats. But the film is layered and nuanced enough to make xenophobe reconsider, or at least to admit how lucky they are.

The central point of the film is that a capitalist society cannot function without an underclass of cheap labour which can be readily exploited. Whether they're driving taxis or cleaning toilets, the people in this underclass live virtually hand-to-mouth with no proper rights and no chance of police protection. They exist in a limbo state where the only choice is survival, by any means and at any cost.

Throughout the film several characters sell or attempt to sell one of their kidneys to Signor Juan (Sergi Lopez) in exchange for that most coveted of items, a British passport. This storyline allows the film to explore the workings of the black economy, again without either glamorising or outright condemning its participants. Signor Juan is presented as equally a monster and a twisted entrepreneur: as he says, "I'm an evil man, and yet I am saving a life." He is fulfilling the capitalist dream by making something of himself and earning money, but his success comes at the expense of innocent people who have no form of defence, legal or otherwise.

If Steven Knight's screenplay wasn't so adept at constructing characters, Dirty Pretty Things would quickly descend into melodramatic hogwash. Instead, the film is a screenwriting triumph, with Knight thoroughly deserving his Oscar nod. On the one hand, there are attempts made to differentiate between the different aspects or layers of the underclass: Okwe is an illegal immigrant, Senay is seeking asylum, and Guo Yi is an employed refugee. By showing their different circumstances and levels of security, the film avoids the trap of caricaturing the underclass as something to be pitied, and hence it never risks us losing trust in the story.

On the other hand, Knight's screenplay constantly resists becoming too generic. The storyline contains a number of mystery or thriller elements, with Chiwitel Ejiofor's sleepless protagonist bringing something of a film noir feel. But neither Frears nor Knight ever feel the need to crowbar the characters into an existing mould. Sophie Okonedo's prostitute may be pleasant, but she's not a hooker with a heart of gold.

The story of Dirty Pretty Things unfolds very economically, with a perfect sense of pacing which allows the characters to develop of their own accord. By setting most of the action in and around a hotel, we get a microcosmic view of the issues, so that the ideas never get so broad that they drown out the characters. For all the time you spend soaking up the political implications of their actions, you are mainly and constantly interested in the protagonists and whether or not they will survive the increasing number of ordeals put before them.

Because it treats its subject so honestly and truthfully (without being earnest or worthy), there are a number of scenes in Dirty Pretty Things which are uncomfortable to watch. One of the first scenes finds Okwe finding a human heart lodged in the u-bend of a toilet, a sight that will turn many a stomach. The surgical scenes are appropriately gruesome, producing the desired reaction of revulsion without feeling like they were just included for shock value.

Alongside this, however, the film is very good at catching us off guard at certain moments. There are several scenes where the story threatens to slip into cliché, only for the camera to cut and reveal something which sheds new light on what is happening. When Okwe first goes into the back room of the cab office, he is asked to get down on his knees. We think he is about to provide the man with oral sex, but it later emerges that he was a doctor examining him for venereal disease.

In a similar sequence, Senay is working in a sweatshop and asked to perform said act on the manager in return for keeping her on after the police have raided. Audrey Tautou sinks out of shot and the camera zooms in on the manager's face, which turns to a grimace after he is bitten. The recurring image of presumed oral sex could be seen as a metaphor for the position and status of illegal immigrants. On the surface we are the ones being pleasured and in control, when in fact they have at least as much influence, and we have no means of responding should the relationship break down.

This latter scene also hints at the presence of humour in the film. Rather than going down the route of being admirably grim, Frears acknowledges that the characters would use humour to get through their experiences. It is not a comedy, but there are a few moments which provoke a light chuckle, which in turn provides much by way of context and pathos. One such moment finds Senay eating a stew Okwe has cooked, and he remarks, "you can do many things with pork". Senay stops eating, being a Muslim and therefore forbidden to eat pork, and Owke continues, "of course, I used lamb."

The performances in Dirty Pretty Things are all first-rate. Sergi Lopez, best known for his role in Pan's Labyrinth, brings a sneering, snooty quality to the character while never slipping into pantomime. Audrey Tautou proves her range as an actress, giving a layered and subtle performance on a par with her work in Amelie. And Chiwitel Ejiofor is terrific, delivering every line with the right balance of conviction and nervous apprehension.

Dirty Pretty Things is one of Frears' finest efforts as a filmmaker and remains of the best films of the decade. Its intelligent handling of a difficult subject matter is complimented by its versatile treatment of its characters, culminating in an ending which is both valedictory and heart-breaking. On the basis of his subsequent output (Mrs. Henderson Presents, Cheri, Tamara Drewe), it may turn out to be the last great film Frears ever makes. But that cannot tarnish a remarkable viewing experience which has stood the test of time and will continue to do so.
Alice S

Super Reviewer

April 16, 2010
A very nice multicultural movie without the United Colors of Benetton feel. It's not about colors; it's about immigrants, stuck between two or more cultures, making a connection. Chiwetel Ejiofor is quite magnetic as the conflicted doctor, now relegated to odd jobs at a hotel and chauffeur business. The scene in which he's questioned by the immigration agents looking for Senay is an excellent showcase of a strong actor playing weak - much like Al Pacino in ...And Justice For All .

I wasn't terribly impressed with Audrey Tautou surprisingly. I don't know if her Turkish accent is all that believable or consistent; nor do I think she and Ejiofor create any chemistry. They seem like good friends, and that's why the "I love you" ending threw me off.

There's one pretty big hole in the script though. Okwe finding a healthy, human heart lodged in the toilet is the inciting incident that propels the dramatic question of the film. However, if a patient died on the table at the hands of an incompetent surgeon in the hotel's underground kidney ring, why would the surgeon cut open his chest, take out the heart, and flush it down the toilet?

Also, doesn't a bare-shouldered Audrey Tautou on the movie poster make this movie seem like an erotic thriller? Spoiler Alert: it's not.
Anthony L

Super Reviewer

September 29, 2009
A fantastic film by frears with a fantastic cast. A controversial theme handled very well through a very good story although it gets a little silly towards the end.
_kelly .

Super Reviewer

February 2, 2008
"So Fucked Up" highlight: the whole plot
puffchunk
puffchunk

Super Reviewer

October 25, 2007
Not terrible. About people who work in a hotel and will do a shotty job of cutting out your kidney to sell on the black market in exchange for a fake passport.
Dean L

Super Reviewer

July 17, 2007
How does one explain this movie without giving it away? An incredibly real movie which makes this gritty thriller that much more tangible. Immigrants attempting to survive in a world where the bureaucracy tries to keep them down. Endless jobs. Endless compromises. Where horror strikes? Well, remember this ...there is a Black Market out there for everything. Outstanding performances by Audrey Tautou (who makes you fall in love with her no matter what part she plays) and Chjwetel Ejiofor. How far will the "heart" let them go?
Drew S

Super Reviewer

January 22, 2007
Audrey Tautou owns yet another role. Chiwetel Ejiofor is excellent as well. The plot is a little bare-bones, but truly deep characters and a sense of intrigue help the movie out in this department.

The ending could have used a little more work.
Aaron N

Super Reviewer

June 2, 2006
A kidney gets you a passport and it gets me 10,000 pounds.

A neat character drama and thriller. Set and made by the British, it is led by Ejifor who I continue to like as an actor. He hold the movie together as a Nigerian doctor with a dark past who is an illegal imigrant, with two jobs, and does not sleep. Tautou is also here and is still adorable, but plays very sad throughout. The plot is pretty neat, as it involves the british underwold of illegal immigrants and the things people do there, but it's mainly about these characters. Good supporting cast and a good score as well. Moves along slowly at points but reveals itself nicely.
Leigh R

Super Reviewer

November 7, 2006
Odd, but good.
neumdaddy
neumdaddy

Super Reviewer

January 12, 2004
Yo hola hey what's up all! Hope everything is as clear and beautiful in your world as it is in mine. Well, that is...if you consider constant blood-letting "beautiful." More of an abstract art, I guess. But let's not pick nits...

As a measure of precautionary measurements, I developed a new form of communication, a [i]code[/i] if you won't, to use amongst my soldiers. Tubbs thinks it's "yet another cockamamie scheme of mine." "Yeah well, Cockamamie's my middle name," I said. I would've said more, but that's all I could mustard up at that moment. Anywaysit, stupid spy crickets sent from the enemy have been dropping oodles of eaves in on our warring strategy (I'm pretty sure they only caught downwind of my "bagel decapitationizing," which has since been abandoned in favor of breakfasts). But now, my absurdly awesome new code will stop thine (mine? mine.) enemy from tapping into mine (my? my.) lines of communication. I call it A.C.K.! (Acronym Coding for Killing). It's really G.O.M. (Growing On Me). I think it's G.O.T. (Growing On Tubbs) too - I bet it is, anyway. A.A.M.O.F. (As A Matter Of Fact), I.L.T.R.A.O.M.W.W.A. (I Like To Replace All Of My Words With A.C.K. [Artistic Crapabbles for Killing]). W.D.Y.T.? T.M.? (What Do You Think? Too Much?)

OK (Oh, Kay), so I won't pull ALL the rabbits from up my metaphorically allegorically proverbial sleeve just yet (that's where I keep my twinkies & Tubbs' cigarettes), but I thought I'd give you a dabble of A.C.K. (Advanced Cryogenics for Killing). I swear to Bob that this is the best thing I've created since "Drink." Oh, that reminds me...(drinks "Drink"). A. (Aaahhh!) OK OK (Oliver Kite-Flyer Ostrich Kluck), so I'll go over a few more codes...but let's keep this between me and whoever you all are (you seem un-confused enough). When I shout R.O.T.F.L.M.A.O. to Whitesnake, I mean "Run Off Turbo-like From Lunging Mallets And Oregonians" so he'd get out of the way from approaching villains (some really bad ones too!). Yet another brilliant warning call from yours falsely. Or if I sternly nod to Squiggy, and mutter N.A.A.C.P., I'm [i]really[/i] saying "Never Apprehend Apples Counteracting Permission," 'cause that bum's always takin' my apples! :mad: Also, when I screech L.O.L.O.M.G.! to a battalion of waffle troops, I actually mean "Love-'em Or Leave-'em Or Mutilate Gorily!", which is just a joke, I guess. I really don't want my soldiers to "love" my (thine? my.) enemy. Or leave them either. Gory mutilation is the preferred action when we encounter our (yowser? shut up.) enemies. Hehe, my favorite is R.O.U.A.P.S.1.2.B.4.2.D.S.H., which is my battle cry of "Roger Over Under A.S.A.P. (As Soon As Pomegranate) Pronto Stat 10-4 24/7 Blue 42 Down, Set, Hike!" Seems to rile up the bums pretty good (but they're still trying to understand this complex brilliance of mine). The waffles don't seem to respond to my code talk. But then again, they haven't really responded to much of ANY talk. I wonder if they only hear high-pitched syrupy noises. Hmm.

Ah, I love A.C.K. (Abbott n' Costello for Killing). Oh, and finally, when I yell out B.R.B., I mean "Be Right Back," because I [i]really[/i] gotta go to the bathroom! (runs)
John B

Super Reviewer

June 23, 2008
Another winner for Stephen Frears. What a shame that it wasn't more widely viewed and too bad that we haven't seen Chiwetal Ejiofor much since.
Alec B

Super Reviewer

September 25, 2007
It gets a little too preachy at times but on the whole its a small, fascinating thriller.
Daniel P

Super Reviewer

April 21, 2007
"We are the people you do not see. We are the ones who drive your cabs. We clean your rooms. And suck your cocks."A very human drama telling the story of a group of UK immigrants (legal & illegal) and their struggle in everyday life, and the lengths they will go to in order to survive. Segueing cleverly and realistically into a shocking depiction of the illegal organ transplant market, Dirty Pretty Things very occasionally feels somewhat trapped by the limitations of a thriller (overwrought music score, close escapes), and the cops here are the usual walking clichés, but most everything else happens naturally and the film is hugely successful. Building on an already impressive career, Audrey Tautou is truly stunning as Senay, and Chiwetel Ejiofor is equally as good as Okwe. Characterisation is one of the films strongest points, which means that the slightly unlikely positive ending feels earned and poignant. Attitudes towards immigration in the UK are becoming increasingly worrying. Xenophobia has never been so rampant, and scare-mongering headlines dominate our worst (and best selling) newspapers. I'm sure a large number of people would benefit from (and have their attitudes tested) watching this film.
Nicolas K

Super Reviewer

April 18, 2008
A powerful thriller: Stephen Friars somehow always provides unforgettable films.
Marcus W

Super Reviewer

December 20, 2007
I originally wanted to see this for Audrey Tautou, but it turns out that the star role is Ejiofor - and he gives a brilliant performance as an illegal immigrant, not to mention a really decent guy, who gets mixed up in something (I'm not going to ruin it) and cannot go to the police so he has to face it. For a low budget British film it's very engaging - yet simplistic - and so well made, with an odd sprinkle of humour and a gripping storyline.
littlecharmer1959
littlecharmer1959

Super Reviewer

August 31, 2008
Comparing this to the two earlier Stephen Frears films I've seen (My Beautiful Laundrette and Prick Up Your Ears) this is definitely the best film of his I've viewed so far.
The two leads performances were strong, Chjwetel Ejiofor as Okwe and Audrey Tautou as the Turkish immigrant Senay (though her accent sounded more Russian to me).
Overall a dark but very well made film.
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