DIRTY PRETTY THINGS
Review by Ed Nguyen
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tautou, Sergi Lopez, Benedict Wong
Director: Stephen Frears
Audio: English 5.1, French 5.1
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1
Features: Director commentary, behind-the-scenes featurette, trailers
Length: 97 minutes
Release Date: March 23, 2004
I'm an evil man, right? But I'm
trying to save her life."
day in our bustling cities, we walk by them, the unobserved denizens of the
streets and side shops. We work in
our comfortable offices, we dine out at restaurants, and we stay overnight in
fancy hotels. Yet all about us, the
tireless and invisible servants of our city are ever-present - the waitresses,
the janitors, the cooks, the maids. Middle-classed
citizens may choose not to notice the migrant workers and minimal wage earners
who often define this necessary niche, but such people fulfill an essential role
in the daily function of our society. As
they depend on us, so do we depend on them in a commensal relationship that
defines city-life existence.
is a film the explores the world of these people.
More specifically, it deals with the underworld of refugees and illegal
immigrants. They are the characters
who choose the low, menial jobs which others would normally eschew.
They are, as one of the film's characters states it, "the people you
never see. We're the ones who drive
your cabs, we clean your rooms."
focal character of Dirty Pretty Things
is Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an illegal immigrant from Nigeria.
Once a respected doctor in his native homeland, he now resigns himself to
a poor existence in London as a cab driver and a night-time hotel receptionist.
He is barely sustaining himself on his meager wages and his persistent lack of
proper sleep. Even so, Okwe maintains his compassion and his pride.
He is optimistic, as are so many such exiles, that someday he will
reunite with his remaining family. Until
then, Okwe is just another invisible servant in London, tending to the needs to
those who would forget his existence once he is beyond their sight.
shares an apartment with Senay (Audrey Tautou), herself a refugee from Turkey.
Their world now is a dark and urban one in which sweat shops,
exploitation, and even prostitution are the norm.
They cannot hope for meaningful police or government assistance;
their only real support rests in one another.
Senay's asylum status forbids her to seek work in England, yet she does
so, regardless. Senay toils as a
chambermaid at the same hotel in which Okwe works and allows him to stay at her
apartment during the day while she works. Generally
though, Senay is suspicious of strangers, for she fears deportation if the
ever-vigilant immigration officers discover her illegal employment.
She is even initially withdrawn and wary of Okwe, although they clearly
possess a mutual respect and empathy for one another's lot in life.
Okwe is, essentially, the only true friend that Senay has, and their
relationship, which commenced in precaution and slight wariness, soon develops
into one of trust and interdependence.
story to Dirty Pretty Things begins
one day when Okwe, at work, receives a complaint that one of the hotel's toilets
has over-flooded. He goes to check
out and possibly repair the toilet, only to discover that its water outflow has
been plugged by a human heart. The
shocking nature of this discovery is never fully revealed, although in bringing
the heart to his shady hotel boss, Señor Juan (Sergi Lopez), Okwe inadvertently
uncovers a dark side of the hotel's business.
A clean and friendly residence by day, by night the hotel becomes not
only a haven for discreet prostitution but also for a dangerous black market
trade. The heart is the key that
opens up a Pandora's box upon which Okwe has unwittingly stumbled.
sense of propriety and honor possess him to solve the mystery behind this human
heart. But, as in Chinatown or Blue Velvet,
the further he delves into this mystery, the further he immerses himself within
an impenetrable quagmire of immoral lives and desperate situations.
Soon, even the innocent Senay is caught in the ramifications of Okwe's
actions, which ultimately exhume the manipulative hand of Señor Juan's
reveal any more of the plot would rob the film of some of its impact.
Suffice it to say that while the thrust of the film lies in the personal
drama of the characters, it does still contain common elements of the thriller
genre. Overall, Dirty
Pretty Things is a fairly dark and thought-provoking film.
Fans of Audrey Tautou's charmingly whimsical Amélie may be surprised with the bleak, pessimistic nature with her
follow-up film, but the French actress reveals that, even at her relatively
young age, she is already mature and talented in her craft. Sergi Lopez, also a non-English speaker performing outside
his native tongue, delivers his lines phonetically yet is so near-brilliant that
he recalls the mannerisms and vital energy of a young Robert de Niro.
However, the film ultimately belongs to Chiwetel Ejiofor, whose subtle
yet strong performance is at the very core of the film's resonance.
explores a seamier undercurrent to the pleasant, everyday bustle of city life.
It deals with the downtrodden reality of daily existence for many migrant
workers. If such lives seem dreary
or filled with ceaseless struggles, they do serve as a precaution against the
insensitive vice of human egoism. We
are all, after all, just one political upheaval or overwhelming natural disaster
away from finding ourselves in similar situations as those depicted in this
is presented in an anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
The film's color palette is occasionally garishly bright but mostly dark
with a vaguely greenish hue that adds to the sickly feel of the film's general
tone. The video transfer rate
averages a strong 7.5 Mbps. Black
levels are quite solid without image breakup, and the film's mild grain serves
its bleak atmosphere quite well.
is presented in English 5.1 with optional English subtitles.
An alternate French track is also available.
In keeping with the multi-cultural nature of this film, the score
contains a fair amount of ethnic music, too
packaging for this film is somewhat misleading. Despite the suggestive assertions of the cover art (not to
mention the film's title), Dirty Pretty
Things is not a sexually-charged, erotic thriller.
It is a serious drama that, while possessing some thriller elements,
finds its strength in the well-developed relationship between Okwe and Senay and
their daily struggle just to survive.
for the actual bonus features, there is a sparse commentary by director Stephen
Frears, best known in America for his work on Dangerous Liaisons and The
Grifters. In the commentary,
Frears occasionally discusses his feelings about the actors, the script, and the
sets, but generally, he allows the film to speak for itself.
His comments, for the most part, aren't actually very interesting or
DVD also includes a brief behind-the-scenes featurette (6 min.) and trailers for
Amélie (Audrey Tautou's breakthrough
film), American Gun, Veronica
Guerin (a biopic starring Cate Blanchett), and The
Magdalene Sisters as well as a promo for Miramax films in general.