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Dirty Pretty Things
2002 - R - 107 Mins.
Director: Stephen Frears
Producer: Tracey Seaward & Robert Jones
Written By: Steve Knight
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tautou, Sergi Lopez, Sophie Okonedo, Benedict Wong
Review by: David Trier
   
Every once in a while solid performances meet with intelligent directing on the platform of a tight script. And, surprise-surprise, you get a really good movie.

Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is an illegal Nigerian immigrant in London wearing himself thin as a gypsy cab driver and a hotel clerk. He’s a good man, but there’s some question over why he had to leave his homeland for such an unsustainable lifestyle. At least he has friends to keep him sane, including a young Turkish immigrant (Audrey Tatou) and a kindly Asian mortician (Benedict Wong). But when Okwe discovers what may have been the remains of a murder in one of the hotel rooms, his slimy boss Sr. Juan (Sergi Lopez) is no help. How can an illegal immigrant do the right thing by everyone without forfeiting his whole life?

What a fantastic film. Ejiofor delivers a character we rarely get to see as protagonist (really part of the point of the film) and is so powerfully present in each scene, he makes an immediately identifiable everyman. Tatou (Amelie), who had been nearing ever too close to a cuteness worthy of destruction (like mangling little bunnies), redeems herself with a character that, again, we rarely get to see. Senay is a Muslim and a virgin, but not some Western interpretation of an Islamic woman, but a real person that’s difficult to understand because that’s how people really are.

The supporting cast glues the story together well, with entertaining performances from Sophie Okonedo as a benevolent prostitute and Zlatko Buric as a dirty old Russian doorman. Special praise is warranted for Benedict Wong whose subtle and patient delivery makes the mortician the voice of reason in a world of irrational behavior. Sergi Lopez is good and consistent as the evil opportunist, but there is something slightly cliché about his slithery demeanor.

Steve Knight’s script is capable of pulling the audience into a complex yet easily understandable mystery-thriller, but it never lets the story be about the crime. The story is about the people and how the crime moves their lives forward at a heart-wrenching, nail-biting pace. This combination of patient introspection with frantic problem solving proves director Stephen Frears to be greater than his overrated successes (like High Fidelity) and his unfortunate flops (like Hero).

Marketing a film is pretty tricky business. Audrey Tatou, despite giving a wonderful performance, really doesn’t deserve to be on the poster or to have the above-title billing she gets. But she is the only name-actor. The film is about Okwe and Chiwetel Ejiofor (I think I’ll call him Chip) is the real star. On the negative side, some might call some of the plot developments “predictable”. I would say they are steps in the story that should happen and predicting them is more satisfying then usual. There are a few loose ends (frayed ends really, not entirely loose) of things brought up for character development reasons that never come back into the story to be justified. But recognizing this means I was looking for flaws. They weren’t all up in my grill.

Above all, this is a film about the people who tend to move under our radars and it is refreshing to discover that there are no automatons in this world; there are only human beings.
 
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

 
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