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Dirty Pretty Things

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Dirty Pretty Things

Starring: Audrey Tautou, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Director: Stephen Frears
Rated: R
RunTime: 107 Minutes
Release Date: July 2003
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Sergi Lopez, Benedict Wong, Sophie Okonedo

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Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4

If you've recently returned from a vacation and you saw your chambermaid on the street (assuming she does not look like like Jennifer Lopez), would you recognize her? If you've had dealings with the concierge, you'd presumably pick him out of a crowd on your home-town street, but what about the people who work in the hotel laundry? Those who bused your table? Probably not. These are the people who work in the background, doing the minimum-wage work that others shun, and if illegal aliens working off the books, often exploited both sexually and materially by their employers. In "Dirty Pretty Things," Stephen Frears who seems to be in Ken Loach territory in knocking out socially-conscious movies about working class stiffs veers away from such tales as "Bread and Roses," "Ladybird, Ladybird," and "Carla's Song" by injecting a horror motif, keeping the audience as tense as though watching a Hitchcock classic while at the same time getting his left- leaning viewpoint across nice and easy.

"Dirty Pretty Things" is even better than Frears's best known works, "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid" (about the lives of a couple with an open sexual relationship thrown into disarry) and "My Beautiful Launderette" (about what happens when two young friends take over a beat-up launderette) only partly from the skill of the lead actors. After all "Launderette" starred Roshan Seth and Daniel Day-Lewis and "Sammy and Rosie" featured Shashi Kapur and Claire Bloom. Without illuminating race relations or the general economic state of Britain, "Dirty Pretty Things" focuses on the way immigrants are treated, particularly those without papers, and thus resonates throughout the prosperous Western world where Turks do the dirty work in Germany, Algerians in France, and Africans in Great Britain.

In fact, since there's no shot of Big Ben, you'd scarcely know that Frears's work takes place in London. Though the posh hotel looks upscale enough to be in Mayfair, Steve Knight's screenplay punches out the seedy behavior that lies under the glitzy surface and the exploitation that exists in the nearby sweatshop where seamstresses are warned moments in advance of a raid by Immigration, the foreman taking advantage of the vulnerability of the workers.

Chiwetel Ejoifor takes the lead as Okwe, a doctor in his native Nigeria, who was forced to flee Lagos and take up work as a driver by day and a hotel receptionist after sundown. He's involved with Turkish asylum-seeker Senay (Audrey Tautou), though the romance is an undercover as the machinations of some hotel personnel. When Okwe discovers a black-market operation in living organs is taking place including kidney grabbing that's the stuff of urban legends he becomes aware that the hotel manager, Sneaky (Segi Lopez), is busy arranging forged passports and money in return for human organs.

With a terrific payoff courtesy of scripter Steven Knight ("Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"), Frears takes us into the world of the underground community, illustrating its camaraderie, its shared fears, its pressure to do virtually anything asked by the employers. The ensemble acting is flawless save for the difficult role faced by Audrey Tautou who (thank goodness) gives up the irritating smile pasted on her face in "Amelie" to deliver her lines in English with a Turkish accent. The story moves swiftly, one which presumably could transcend its status as an independent film, and with the right marketing could become the box-office success it deserves.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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