Dirty Pretty Things

  Dirty Pretty Things
Chiwetel Ejiofor and Audrey Tautou squat for their lives!

© 2003, Miramax Films
All Rights Reserved

Juggling two jobs to keep his life afloat, illegal African immigrant Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor, "Amistad") is dead tired and looking for a way out of his hectic London life. During his graveyard shift at a local hotel, Okwe finds himself dealing with a clogged toilet in one of the rooms. When the obstruction turns out to be a human heart, Okwe is thrust into a black market organ donor ring that threatens his immigration status and the life of his illegal friend, Senay (Audrey Tautou, "Amelie").

With a setup like this, Stephen Frears's "Dirty Pretty Things" (IMDb listing) pretty much assures a decent thrill ride at the movies. With the current make up of narrative-driven art house cinema leaning towards heist films, "Dirty's" assured, straightforward approach to the art form of the thriller is invigorating and packs a punch. Directed by Stephan Frears ("High Fidelity"), whose career has recently been rejuvenated, "Dirty" is such a low key affair that its thrills sneak up on you. Frears knows how to cook his audience, letting them simmer in the macabre organ donor subplot before moving on to unspeakable acts of revenge for his climax. This is an assured directorial turn, aided by the crackerjack script by Steven Knight.

We've seen all this thriller material before, but Knight's script isn't interested in square dancing with the audience through twists and surprise endings. "Dirty" is reminiscent of 1970s thrillers in that it's assured and confident, and not preoccupied with staying ahead of the audience. Most will be able to see what Frears and Knight have up their sleeves for the duration of the picture, but that's not the point. The kicks in "Dirty" come from sitting back and seeing a story that's incredibly well told and efficient with its sentiment. Adding another interesting layer to the picture is the way Frears keeps the constant illegal immigrant paranoia running high throughout the film. The characters not only have to solve the mysteries presented, but also must stay one foot ahead of the immigration cops who are constantly raiding their places of work. Whenever the film's main plot lacks the needed punch, this subplot keeps the tension at full volume.

Virtually unknown, star Chiwetel Ejiofor is aces in the lead role. Frears doesn't allow Ejiofor's Okwe any moments of protest (which would call attention to the alien character), so the entire performance must come from behind Ejiofor's eyes. It's a rich, powerhouse performance, taking great chances by refusing to indulge in more familiar actor instincts. In fact, all of the leads in this tight film are extraordinary. Audrey Tautou and Spanish actor Sergi Lopez make their English language debut here, with the latter appearing in the role of Sneaky, Okwe's hotel boss. Both actors have proven themselves before, but under the burden of a new language, the actors acquit themselves wonderfully, even if Tautou can't quite keep her "Turkish" accent for long. I'm also enamored of how Tautou is beginning to play against her natural adorable nature, choosing roles that challenge her angelic beauty. With "Dirty," and more volatile roles in "He Loves Me, He Love Me Not," and "L' Auberge Espagnole," Tautou is challenging her audience when I can imagine it would take little effort for her to sell out and exploit her strawberry shortcake disposition for all the coin in the world.

An understated, yet gripping change of pace thriller, "Dirty Pretty Things" might not have you guessing much, but your fingernails will still be chewed to the bone.

Filmfodder Grade: A-