Okwe (Chiwete Ejiofor) is the fugitive of a murder charge in his country, Nigeria, who immigrated, penniless, to London to start a new life. But, a man without proper papers cannot live a normal existence and he must take whatever work he can find. He drives a taxi by day and is the night clerk at a seedy hotel where he meets another illegal émigré from Turkey, Senay (Audrey Tautou). Both of their lives will become steeped in intrigue and violence when Okwe is called to check a flooded toilet in one of the hotel rooms and removes a human heart in director Stephen Frears's "Dirty Pretty Things."
Frears, working from an original script by Steve Knight, brings us to the sordid underbelly of London where trafficking in human organs is just one of the many low and dirty business that uses and abuse the city's ample illegitimate population. The story centers on Okwe who fled his Nigerian homeland for what is alluded to as the murder of his wife. In Lagos, he was a noted doctor but, now, on the run, he must take any meager job he can find just to make ends meet, chewing on coca leaves to stay awake and taking whatever work he can.
Senay, another illegal, has the further disadvantage of being a woman trying to get by as an illegal in London. She must face the constant threat of deportation as she tries to get her hands on the illegal papers that will make for her a new, legitimate life. But, the cost, as dictated by wheeler-dealer Senor Juan (Sergi Lopez) is extreme and, when Okwe is blackmailed into using his surgeon's skill to help fulfill the bargain, a plot ensues to save Senay.
Frears, a very eclectic director, takes on, in "Dirty Pretty Things," a cross-cultural story of a world of surviving on the edge of legitimate society. In an often-funny manner the story deals with an underworld society where drugs, illicit sex and, even, body parts are up for sale. When you have no money, home or country, the offer of $10000 for one of your kidneys does not seem like a bad deal. Okwe represents the dedicated physician, even in exile, who is only willing to compromise his Hippocratic oath to save a life - especially if it is Senay's.
Chiwetel Ejiofor is perfect as Okwe. There is a sad soulful quality to the character that only wants to return to the life he once knew. Okwe is an intelligent, pragmatic and hard-working man who cares for those around him. He shares an apartment with Senay and, despite the various barriers and mores societies impose, develops a fond affection for the desperate young Turkish woman.
Audrey Tautou is used mainly to capitalize on the international acclaim she received for her performance in the hit film, "Amelie." She is a part of the action, not the initiator that Okwe is, and helps to move the film to its pretty, but melancholy ending, without embellishing her character. Supporting cast, doorman Ivan (Zlatko Buric), hooker Juliette (Sophie Okonedo) and, especially, Senor Juan (Lopez) flesh background things out well enough.
Steven Knight's script delves into an unusual illegal world that is often violent and sometimes deadly. He intermingles subtle humor into the drama that takes the edge off of the film - something that may have kept "Pretty Dirty Things" from achieving its dramatic potential. It is an unusual look at a cottage industry that harvests organs from its illegal donor for the documents that will make them "legal" in the eyes of the law.
Techs are good with nighttime London shown in an elegant, seedy manner that is both familiar and foreign.
"Pretty Dirty Things" is a competently done film that feels more like an exercise for helmer Frears than one of his more notable oeuvres. It has a good heart - no pun intended - and I give it a B-.
In the thriving metropolis of London, illegal immigrants and other dispossessed struggle to hang onto dreary existences while the better off benefit without even being aware of them. One such is Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor, "Amistad"), a hardworking Nigerian who drives cabs by day and spends his nights as a hotel receptionist. When Okwe makes a gruesome discovery in a hotel room's bathroom, his opportunistic Russian manager Sneaky (Sergi Lopez, "With a Friend Like Harry") waves it away, telling him 'hotels are about strangers - they come in here in the night and do dirty things - we make it pretty' in director Stephen Frears's ("High Fidelity") "Dirty Pretty Things."
Frears and screenwriter Steven Knight take a look at those toiling in the jobs that no one else wants while they're preyed upon by a layer of society much like themselves in everything but humanity. The story takes the myth out of the urban legend about hotel room kidney- stealing, making it more horrific in that its victims are voluntary. "Dirty Pretty Things" will offer an invaluable service if it causes its audience to start looking into the faces of those it takes for granted, although it devolves into a simplistic race-against-time, damsel-in-distress tale.
Good-hearted Okwe thrives on caffeine in order to stay awake for all his working hours and saves money by sharing a small flat with Senay (Audrey Tatou, "Amelie"), a virginal Turkish girl who works as a daytime chambermaid at the same hotel. Okwe's world consists of meting out clap remedies to fellow cabbies, playing chess with his bemused mortician attendant buddy Guo Yi (Benedict Wong, "Spy Game") and casting a blind eye towards streetwalker Juliette (Sophie Okonedo, "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls") and her jovial cab driver customer Ivan (Zlatko Buric, "Bleeder") who tryst in his hotel. Okwe clearly cares for Senay, but his own secret and her chastity hold him in check. When Senay loses her job in the hotel, she takes another in a sweatshop run by an abusive pig. Her desperation will put her in the path of the evil operation Okwe stumbled upon without understanding and he will undergo a grueling journey through London's dark underbelly in order to save her and himself.
The charismatic Ejiofor grounds the film with a portrait of non-judgemental human decency leavened with humor. It's a star-making performance. Audrey Tatou ("Amelie") is surprisingly well cast as a Turkish girl in love with Okwe, but there is little complexity to the character of a fearful victim. Sergi Lopez ("With a Friend Like Harry") is gleefully nasty as Russian black marketeer Sneaky. Wong is a stabilizing presence as Okwe's philosophical morgue buddy and Buric adds a zest for life amidst the downtrodden , but it is Sophie Okonedo who provides the sprightliest support in the cliched role of the down to earth hooker.
The London of "Dirty Pretty Things" is one of cramped spaces and slick nighttime streets, daylight reserved for ethnic markets and a final scene of escape. Frears makes his point well and early on, though, leaving himself nowhere to go but melodrama. Thankfully he stops short of having Tatou tied to train tracks.
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