Movie Reviews
2:33 pm
Mon August 18, 2003

Dirty Pretty Things

"Dirty Pretty Things" is an example of excellent filmmaking art without artifice.


"Dirty Pretty Things" is a thriller interrupted by a love story. The immigrant Brit working class is sometimes depicted by this film's director Stephen Frears ("My Beautiful Laundrette"); the native Brits are often championed by Mike Leigh ("Secrets and Lies"). In both cases, the kitchen sink realism does not fail to wake up middle-class Anglophiles like me.

Nigerian doctor Okwe hides in London behind 2 jobs as cabbie and night porter. He lives with, but does not sleep with, Turkish chambermaid Senay (played by "Amelie's" Audrey Tautou). Though they both hide from immigration officials, they cannot hide from their love. Okwe remains loyal to his Nigerian wife and daughter, and Senay has enough surviving to do to keep herself from Okwe.

After he finds a human heart in a hotel room, his own heart is changed forever. He becomes aware of low-life trafficking in organs and aware that as a doctor he could relieve many pains by helping the transplant operations. When the bloody business hits home, Frears lets us suffer with Okwe while he decides if his conventional morality can adjust to the underworld's impossible demands. The decision is not easy because his boss, Sneaky (the talented Sergi Lopez from "With a Friend like Harry"), regales him with the sophistry that crime like this is good for everyone involved (for instance, a doctor performing an operation rather than letting a hack do damage).

My worldly-wise companion and I debated Okwe's dilemma without a firm conclusion about the ethics of this end justifying the means. Frears caught us in the middle-class complacency of professionals who easily trip to London not even thinking about the workers who will attend to us--those shadow people we will never see, the disenfranchised a heartbeat away from jail or deportation. As for their love lives, who has time?

The screenwriter, Steven Knight, created the original "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?" "Dirty" is leagues away from that fantasy game show, but then again the immigrants of this film are just as much moved by the slim chance of finding a home somewhere in the world.

It's the love story between Okwe and Senay that entrances me. I can't remember when I was so pleased by seeing the power of mutual respect turning into love and impossibility as I have been here. Of course, the consummate acting is a big help (You'll completely forget airhead Amelie when you see Tautou out of Paris and in the streets of London).

"Dirty Pretty Things" is an example of excellent filmmaking art without artifice.