Director Stephen Frear's Dirty Pretty Things is a noirish thriller/drama/romance with enough elements of the bizarre intertwined into its storyline to keep it interesting even when it shouldn't be.
Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Okwe, a Nigerian citizen wanted in his homeland for the murder of his wife now living as an illegal alien in London, England. He spends his days working as a cab driver and playing doctor to the company's syphilitic employees and his nights as a desk clerk at a fancy hotel. This doesn't leave much time for sleep, but he's okay with that and is constantly taking an herbal stimulant to combat his sleep deprivation.
Senay (Audrey Tautou of Amelie) is a Turkish Muslim refugee living in England under the close watchful eye of the English immigration police who remind her that because of her status she is not allowed to work or accept rent. Well, she does it anyway – she works as a maid at the hotel were Okwe is also employed under the table, and she rents space on the couch in her small apartment to him as well.
One night while on the job at the hotel, a prostitute named Juliette tells Okwe that he might need to check one of the rooms as the toilet is clogged. When he removes the blockage from the toilet, he finds that it's actually a human heart. When he takes it to his boss, s sleaze ball Spaniard named Juan (played perfectly by Sergi Lopez), he finds that Juan is actually running an illegal organ smuggling ring in which illegal immigrants are given well faked passports in exchange for their kidneys.
When the immigration police close in on Okwe and Senay, suspicious of her working and renting to him, she decides that she'll sell Juan one of her kidney's in exchange for a passport and flee the country to go be with her cousin in New York. but Okwe was a doctor back in Nigeria before he fled, and he knows of the risks involved in this type of surgery when it's done by amateurs in hotel rooms rather than by trained medical professionals in the safety of a hospital. Armed with this knowledge he tries to dismay her and come to terms with the fact that they are starting to fall in love with each other.
While the box copy on the keepcase plays the film up as a sexual thriller, it's really not that at all and the little sex that is in the film is far from erotic – it's cold and dispassionate and simply a means to an end for the characters involved. What it is, is essentially a character study based around some realistic circumstances and suspenseful set pieces that keep you involved in the story based on Frear's rock solid direction and strong performances from all the major players involved.
The only thing I knew about Ejiofor was that he had a small role in Spielberg's Amistad but having seen him carry this film from start to finish and make it look easy, I'd be keen to seek out more of his work. His Okwe is a believable and sympathetic character and it's to Ejiofor's credit that he's able to pull it off, even during some of the films weaker moments. Tautou is both charming and tragic in her role and brings a sense of legitimate sadness to her part that a lesser actress wouldn't have been able to manage – when she's sexually abused by a sweatshop worker, it's grueling and even horrifying, rather than cheap exploitation.
Frears keeps the movie looking good from start to finish and the film retains a unique visual style for its duration with some fluid camera movements and interesting lighting. Even when the plot meanders a bit, which it does towards the end as it treads dangerously close to becoming too sugary for its own good it at least looks great and the ending absolves ultimately absolves itself.
Miramax presents Dirty Pretty Things in a very solid 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors are vibrant and realistic, compression artifacts are virtually non-existent, and aside from a couple of specks on the print that show up here and there (and only in very minor instances at that), the only noticeable defect is a teeny tiny bit of edge enhancement in a couple of scenes.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track on this DVD isn't really given too much to work with. The film is almost entirely dialogue based without any serious sound effects or crazed background music. Keeping that in mind, it would seem obvious that most of the action comes from the front of the soundscape and the rears are really only used in a few instances to build a bit of atmosphere through some musical cues and background noise. The clarity of the track is fine though and once you get used to the accents of the characters in the film it's not hard at all to follow what's being said. There is also an alternate French language track included as well.
While this release is hardly a jam-packed special edition, there are a couple of in bonus features lurking beneath the menus. First up is a commentary with director Stephen Frears. While Frears is an interesting guy with a pretty solid sense of humor, I didn't find this track particularly riveting. There are way too many instances of dead air where nothing is said, which ultimately results in a rather dull track. When he does talk, he straddles the line between moderately interesting and rather obvious in his remarks, so unless you're a hardcore Frears fan, you're probably better off skipping this track. A short behind the scenes feature is also on the DVD, clocking in at roughly six minutes. Most of the cast members are represented through some audio clips overtop of some reasonably informative behind the scenes footage. A few trailers for other titles available on DVD from Miramax round out the supplements.
Dirty Pretty Things does a nice job of telling its story with a strong visual style and some compelling characters. Even when the plot meanders a bit and delves a bit too deeply into soap operatics, it remains an interesting film and is worth a recommendation.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.