Thursday, August 07, 2014

Dirty Pretty Things

Originally Written and Posted at on 7/7/07 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Directed by Stephen Frears and written by Steven Knight, Dirty Pretty Things tells the story of a Nigerian doctor who drives a cab by day and works at a hotel at night. His best friend is a Turkish immigrant who is trying to evade the immigration services while working odd jobs. When he learns about a secret operation over kidney sales from immigrants in exchange for passports, he is in shock over what is happening and what is at stake. The film is an exploration into the world of black market operations where people sell body parts for money and passports as it is set entirely in London. Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tautou, Sophie Okonedo, Benedict Wong, and Sergi Lopez. Dirty Pretty Things is a suspenseful yet harrowing film from Stephen Frears.

The film is an exploration into the world of black markets where illegal immigrants are forced to swap kidneys to gain passports so they can work in London. Yet, it revolves on a Nigerian immigrant in Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a German doorman in Ivan (Zlatko Buric), a hooker named Juliette (Sophie Okonedo), and a Turkish maid named Senay (Audrey Tautou) whom he's roommates with as they work in a hotel run by Juan (Sergi Lopez). Upon finding a human heart in a toilet, Okwe learns that there is something going on in the hotels as Senay is being targeted by immigrant officials for being an illegal immigrant. With Okwe trying to help her, his past as a doctor who worked for the Nigerian government comes back to haunt him as he learns about who is running the black markets operation as it plays into this complicated world where people have to survive and live a better life without trouble from the law or from people who are more concerned than profit than human lives.

All of which explores a world that is very dark as Steven Knight's screenplay relies on the structure of suspense as the momentum is built on what's going to happen. The script is really the film's high point in creating characters who aren't stereotypes and such but real people as there's also an unconventional love story of sorts between Okwe and Senay even though they aren't lovers.  It adds to something that makes the story feel different in terms of what is expected in a genre film like this while it is clear that the characters in the film are quite flawed.  It's often due to the fact that they're driven by the instinct to survive through dire means in a world that doesn't treat immigrants very lightly as Knight's script showcases a part of London that is diverse but also quite chaotic.

Stephen Frears' direction is top notch in creating suspense and intrigue for the story. While it's a bit flawed due to the pacing early in the film, it does pay off with the way it builds momentum as well as the question of morality. Notably, the character of Okwe who is definitely the conscious of sorts in the film which is kind of rare for a protagonist. Even as he is surrounded by a strange group of people including a laid-back hooker, a philosophical doctor, a lively doorman, and Senay. Senay is also interesting since she's a character who has a dream but is often clashing with reality as she realizes how far she has to go. Overall, it's Frears' observant yet stagy direction that creates a very solid drama.

Cinematographer Chris Menges brings a variety of looks to the film from the grayish, desolate look of the film's exterior sequences, notably the immigration, ethnic communities as well as the film interiors. To the more stylish, staged lighting in the film's hotel interior scenes which adds style to the film's unique look. Production designer Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski and art director Rebecca Holmes create a unique look to the film's locations from the working-class, colorful look in the immigration slums to the polished, posh look of the hotel rooms and hotel lobby. Costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux create a nice look to the hotel suits that Juan, Okwe, and Ivan wears as well as the clothes that Juliette wears that isn’t overly revealing or vastly conservative.

Editor Mick Audsley does some excellent work in the film's editing to create suspense and terror that is expected in a genre like a thriller. Yet, Audsley's editing works to convey the manic energy that happens during the third act. Sound editors Mark Auguste and Peter Joly help create suspense with the film's sounds from the cars outside to the noise of the slums with the people surrounding the place. Music composer Nathan Larson creates a chilling score that just doesn't play to the film's suspense but also the drama with collages of guitar melodies and keyboards. The soundtrack mostly consists of Larson's score plus Turkish folk music and a song by David Byrne, formerly of the Talking Heads.

The film's cast is wonderfully assembled, notably for the fact that it's very diverse with people who aren't mostly English actors but rather people from other countries or a certain ethnicity. Smaller roles ranging from Darrell D'Silva as an immigration officer, Kehan Hudaverdi as a cafe` owner, and Barber Ali as the sweatshop owner are memorable in their performances. Benedict Wong is good as Guo Yi, Okwe's hospital friend who often talks forms of philosophy including chess and how the roles of life are often played. Zlatko Buric is brilliant as the comical Ivan who often talks about the good things that are in the hotel world while trying to protect his friends from immigration officers. Sophie Okonedo is good as the hooker Juliette who often flirts with Okwe while letting him know that there's things in the hotel that aren't right as she ends up helping him in his crisis of conscious.

Spanish actor Sergi Lopez is wonderful as Juan aka Sneaky. Lopez doesn't act like a conventional villain but rather a man who believes what he's doing is good, not just for himself but also the people whose lives he claims are saving. It's a wonderfully diabolical role from Lopez who brings charm and wittiness to his character. French actress Audrey Tautou, known for her work with Jean-Pierre Jeunet, is wonderful as Senay. Tautou is amazing in capturing Senay's desires to live a different world while dealing with the realities of what it takes to live a new life. It's a brilliant performance for the French actress who makes her English-language debut in the film as she proves that she can play characters that are dark as opposed to something as light-hearted as in Amelie. Finally, there's Chiwetel Ejiofor in a brilliant performance as the moralistic Okwe. Ejiofor gives a performance that isn't overly dramatic but rather subtle in how he observes everything around him and how tries to do what's right. Though he does wrong in taking stimulants and not being open, it's because his character is trying to evade secrets that won't expose him to authorities as it is Ejiofor at his best.

Dirty Pretty Things is a phenomenal film from Stephen Frears that features great performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tautou, and Sergi Lopez. The film is definitely one of Frears' finest films in terms of its suspense and exploration into characters in the situations they're in. Especially as it focuses on people who are on the fringes of society as it is told with great respect by screenwriter Steven Knight. In the end, Dirty Pretty Things is a remarkable film from Stephen Frears.

Stephen Frears Films: (Gumshoe) - (Afternoon Off) - (Bloody Kids) - (Walter) - (Walter and June) - (December Flower) - (The Hit (1984 film)) - (My Beautiful Launderette) - (Prick Up Your Ears) - (Mr. Jolly Lives Next Door) - (Sammie and Rose Get Laid) - (The Grifters) - (Hero (1992 film)) - (The Snapper) - (Mary Reilly) - (The Van (1996 film)) - (The Hi-Lo Country) - (High Fidelity) - (Liam) - (Fail-Safe (2000 TV film)) - (The Deal (2003 TV film)) - (Mrs. Henderson Presents) - The Queen (2006 film) - (Cheri) - (Tamara Drewe) - (Lay the Favorite) - (Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight) - Philomena

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