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Awesome: 39.29%
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5 reviews, 26 user ratings

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Dirty Pretty Things
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by Erik Childress

"That's Not Tony Bennett's Heart In That Toilet"
4 stars

Grisly symbolism is certainly one way to snatch your audience's attention. Especially if they're not aware its symbolic. Oh, the artsy cinephiles may relish such a tactic, particularly when it's all about metaphors and not meant to satisfy a story arc but rather to soak in its own pretentiousness while you contemplate its meaning. Stephen Frears is not about to let you wallow in preachiness nor to go strictly exploitive with the grisly undercurrent running through his social drama. Instead he gives us both in a delectable mélange of dark comedy, suspenseful melodrama and touching romance.

The image normally projected of London is one of tourist attractions; beautiful monuments, swanky restaurants and romantic settings. Frears takes us to the underbelly that exists on the same surface. In a hotel where the bright reds and apparent poshness allude of a royal facsimile, there's a sinisterness only approached by what's transpiring outside of its doors. A world of refugees flock to this area either as a limbo to their dreams of America or simply putting their pasts behind them.

Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is one such refugee. Forcing himself to stay awake consistently, Okwe works two jobs. One as a cab driver where the employees would rather trust him to look over their gonorrhea than dare go to a hospital. His evening position finds him at the hotel as the bellman where he looks one way while Juliette (Sophie Okonedo), the regular hooker, comes and goes and is asked to look another way by bossman "Sneaky" Senor Juan (Sergi Lopez) when he finds a human heart clogging up one of the toilets.

Senay (Audrey Tautou) is a maid at the Chateau Organ; beautiful and fragile to the extent of paranoia. Careful to even not hint to the house that she's allowing Okwe to reside with her, Senay is a Turkish Muslim discovering that life may always force you to cover your face with a sheet in one way or another. London's immigration office won't allow you to work and when they come looking, a sweatshop may be the only place to find solace as long as you give a little something back.

Describing Dirty Pretty Things like this may bore you into thinking this is nothing more than another downtrodden tale of harsh living conditions. That's just scenery and rich subtext. On the surface, the film is part mystery, part film noir and always fascinating. Okwe, with his own secrets to hide, has a case of the Blue Velvet; allowing curiosity to draw him closer to confronting choices he'd soon never have to make. His budding friendship with Senay does not depend on sexuality, but on the growing appreciation to need someone else. Their relationship culminates into such a level that is far and away more emotional than a hundred guys racing on motorcycles to stop the woman's plane.

Steve Knight's script also zings with a nasty string of macabre humor and is aided by a wonderfully creepy performance by Sergi Lopez. Anyone who caught Lopez as the Hitchcockian Peter Lorre-type in With a Friend Like Harry knows this is a character you wouldn't trust your daughter with. Lopez's bossman knows the system and is willing to exploit it, but in a more casual way; if casual meant signing your life away into an urban legend, literally. Sensitive viewers are likely to cringe more than laugh at Sneaky's antics, which also call to attention an inherent sadness in the desperation for independence. Lopez plays it just perfectly though balancing a smug creepiness and an ignorant playfulness.

Villainy is nothing with righteousness though and Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a star-making performance as Okwe, full of charm and purpose. Watching him contemplate his next move and suppressing the weight of his past and current feelings with those wide eyes is one of the more striking and freshest turns I've seen of late. Those who fell in love with Audrey Tautou in Amelie will wonder oh where, oh where that sunny disposition went as she makes Senay's despair so hopeless that we wish we could reach out and shield her from the misery. Then, just in time to save the pathos from getting too thick is Benedict Wong as Okwe's tacksharp friend and the coolest medical examiner since Quincy.

Dirty Pretty Things is a rare little treasure. To juggle so many tones and storylines is a tribute to Frears and his continued ability to augment his resume with the same style. From The Grifters to Hero to High Fidelity, Frears wry sense of humor and attention to his characters make for the kind of films that we just can't get enough of. Audiences don't like to be preached to and I certainly rally against any film that treats us like infantile morons who can't piece together anything on our own for less than two hours. Even if the toilet discovery has to be nothing more than symbolism (since its contents would be far more valuable and a careless bit of incrimination), it serves as an introduction to the travails of these people that is more than just subtext and never elevates to a soapbox. It's also as entertaining as any film you're likely to see this year.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=7991&reviewer=198
originally posted: 08/01/03 01:02:34
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Tribeca Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/25/11 mr.mike It failed to hold my interest. 3 stars
7/30/09 ntuthuko I think the movie is prety good cheers. 5 stars
4/26/07 MoMo What an absolute dungfest. Its so cheesy and western, awful. 1 stars
10/24/04 The REAL Tornado Who the hell is using my name?? 1 stars
10/01/04 psycho dwarf Unreal. Ya might call it an Urban Mythic Expose`. But the acting saves iffy storytelling. 4 stars
6/12/04 john bale The plight of illegal immgrants in London's underbelly assured direction of brooding drama 5 stars
6/06/04 Recurring Dream Brilliant - best film i've seen all year 5 stars
5/13/04 tatum Wonderful character study with thriller aspect; Oscar ignored cast! 5 stars
3/25/04 bikehorn Some parts are hard to grasp, but over all a decent film. Tautou is very up and coming. 3 stars
3/24/04 hollywood Great film with relative unknowns. Audrey Tautou will be a major star 5 stars
1/27/04 y2mckay Audrey Tatou looks about as Turkish as I do - but the movie's quite good, esp. Ejiofor 4 stars
1/27/04 irena very unusual representation of a theme, not morbid or depressing at all, yet its critical 4 stars
10/22/03 Tanya 'Tornado' Stork I like Kidney Pie 4 stars
10/02/03 Jin absolutely wonderful 5 stars
9/15/03 Jinnvisible Bigots are starved of the kind of insights woven here. Great Anglo-chinesse porter role 4 stars
9/10/03 carlmzapffe "DIRTY PRETTY THINGS"(2002) 5 stars
9/05/03 Ahnold Better than usual BS seen from Hollywood. Rather put $ in this independent flick. 3 stars
8/29/03 Joey This is what we get, huh? crap 1 stars
8/29/03 Choadushouse Very DIFFERENT. Deeply emotional and REAL feeling. Great round-up end. 4 stars
8/28/03 eugene thought it was great. 5 stars
8/12/03 shelley stults slow start, nice twist in the conclusion 4 stars
8/09/03 Will Green 'tis good, 'tis reccommended. It has a constant pace, and isn't anticlimactic, so... yeah! 3 stars
8/06/03 Babs Intriguing story, not your typical, predictable hollywood pretentious film, its refreshing 5 stars
8/03/03 Kia Ora This movie stays with you for a long time after you leave the theater. 5 stars
7/18/03 BAD bad 1 stars
7/14/03 thejames Intresting flick. I enjoyed watching it. 4 stars
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  18-Jul-2003 (R)
  DVD: 23-Mar-2004


  10-Jun-2004 (MA)

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