Dirty Pretty Things


             Americans can be so xenophobic sometimes. Undoubtedly, there are
     many who believe that problems of illegal immigrants only exist in the United
     States. In fact, refugees seek asylum in numerous countries around the world.
     Some appeal directly to the government for assistance while others decide to
     take a more circuitous route.
DIRTY PRETTY THINGS is both a thriller about
     a black market ring that trades in human organs and a character study of a
     pair of illegals who forge an unusual bond that blossoms into romance.
     Written by Steven Knight (who had a hand in creating the global TV sensation
    
 "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?") and directed by Stephen Frears,
      
DIRTY PRETTY THINGS struggles between its genres, occasionally
     combining into compelling drama.

             Okwe (the magnificent Chewetel Ejiofor) is a Nigerian doctor forced
     to work two jobs in order to survive. He works the night shift as a desk clerk
     at a hotel while he spends most of his days driving a cab. He survives on
     a few hours of sleep, preferring to chew coca leaves as a means of staying
     awake. Okwe also shares an apartment with Senay (French actress Audrey
     Tatou in her first English-speaking role), a Turkish Muslim working as a
     chambermaid at the same hotel. When the pair are not trying to outsmart
     the immigration officials, they develop a nice rapport that blossoms into
     genuine caring.

             Still, the love story doesn't come to the forefront until nearly halfway
     into the film. By that point, Senay has had to seek other work and has been
     servicing her boss sexually (although with her virginity intact) as a means
     of avoiding the authorities. Okwe, meanwhile, has learned that the hotel
     manager Juan a.k.a. 'Sneaky' (an appropriately oleaginous performance by
     Sergei Lopez) has a side business trafficking in black market organs. (He
     obtains the necessary livers and kidneys from desperate immigrants while
     in return he provides them with passports and other proper documents.)
     The plot eventually kicks in when Senay decides to head to New York and
     goes to Sneaky to get papers. When Okwe learns what she's done, he turns
     to one of the hotel's prostitutes (tartly played by Sophie Okonedo) for
     assistance and, not to spoil anything, let's just say that a form of justice is
     served.

             Frears' direction seems grafts his strong work on
THE GRIFTERS with
     his earlier dramas like
MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE and
     
SAMMY AND ROSIE GET LAID. In the case of DIRTY PRETTY THINGS,
     though, he tends to let the dark thriller aspects fall by the wayside
     to concentrate on the character study of the illegals. Perhaps this is because
     of his two leading actors who manage to suggest much that isn't on the
     page through body language and glances. Ejiofor, a respected stage actor,
     creates a powerful portrait of a man haunted by his past who begins to dream
     of a possible future when forced to take action. Tatou, the gamine star
     of
AMELIE, faces a more difficult task as Knight's script doesn't offer her
     character much development. Still, the actress is compelling and believable.
     In the final scenes, the pair are heartbreaking.


                     
Rating:                       B+
                     
MPAA rating:               R for sexual content, disturbing
                                                               images and language
                     
Running time:               97 mins.


                           Viewed at Loews Cineplex Lincoln Square


                                                                
© 2008 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.