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Dirty Pretty Things /

Rated: R

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tautou, Sergi Lopez, Sophie Okonedo, Benedict Wong

Directed by: Stephen Frears

Produced by: Tracey Seaward, Robert Jones
Written by: Stephen Knight
Distributor: Miramax Films


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Movie Image
Movie Image

     Dirty Pretty Things fails for the exact same reason it succeeds—having a sense of creativity. The story, set in London, centers around the relationship between Senay (Audrey Tatou), who has fled from Turkey and works as a hotel maid, and Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor) an illegal immigrant from Nigeria, escaping wrongful punishment. The two have simple lives; Okwe sleeps on Senay’s couch during the day, and works in the same hotel she does at night. Their routine is, for the most part, a reciprocal exchange. However, the two’s fear of deportation to their native countries overwhelms them day and night. They have noticeably fallen for each other, but refrain from expressing their love, because Okwe must remain faithful to his supposed wife back home and Senay doesn’t want to lose her virginity. 

     After a lengthy setup, the film finally peaks when the two discover the eye-opening secret business taking place in their employer’s hotel. Their boss, Sneaky (Sergi Lopez) is offering illegal aliens authentic passports in exchange for their organs. He wants Okwe, a former doctor in Nigeria, to conduct the operations, considering his current surgeon isn’t quite up to par. Senay is considering trading her kidney for the necessary documentation to get her into the United States. The finale of Dirty Pretty Things wants to shock us, and it does, but only artificially. It’s a mere thrill, completely destroying the political statement about immigration director Stephen Frears is trying to make. While my disagreement with his liberal viewpoints accounts for some of my unattached ability to connect with the two main characters, Frears is accountable for much of it. Senay and Okwe are unwanted immigrants, by definition. The audience cannot just instantly like them for who they are; they have to work for our sympathy. Tatou and Ejiofor are obviously striving towards this very feeling, but their director’s half-assed job will not allow it to break through his grim ideas. Dirty Pretty Things represents one of the largest missed opportunities, in the world of filmmaking, during this past year.

     Emotion aside, the clever, twisty plot cannot be ignored. The material would almost work as some kind of demented noir, and if the movie had gone down that road, it probably would’ve worked a lot better. Screenwriter Steve Knight ingeniously, as every screenwriter should, left Frears with several options regarding the way in which Dirty Pretty Things could’ve been executed. Keeping the final product that I witnessed in mind, though, his brilliance has been put to waste. Somewhere in the confines of this movie, there is a great social-commentary and a great thriller. Neither is brought out very well, resulting in the mediocrity I have expressed this picture to have. Throughout Dirty Pretty Things, I delved through the dialogue and found an abundance of meaning, only this never really wraps up into a single package. Every missed opportunity at creating a genre-defying element in the flick only seems to be a simple loose end, as the screen fades to play and the credits begin to roll.

     In the last few moments of Dirty Pretty Things, Okwe announces something startling, acting as a payoff to the hardships he has experienced in his life. Believe me, I was happy for him, but far from touched. I had been manipulated by the entire exercise that is the movie—as all viewers will be—stunned by its mechanics and technicalities. I wasn’t touched, though, and this severely bothered me. The situation felt like something from a stale melodrama, minus the pumping music and sobbing characters. It was poignant alright. But I didn’t cry. I didn’t have Goosebumps. I didn’t even think to myself “Oh! How wonderful!” Instead, I was screaming inside of my head in agony; even though I was pleased by the film I had just witnessed, the experience didn’t feel dynamic enough. Maybe my expectations were too high; or maybe I’m just crazy, seeing that 94% of critics liked the movie (Source: RottenTomatoes.com). However, I do know an untaken befalling when I see one, and Dirty Pretty Things is an instant qualifier for a position in this category. Every element of it adds up, but the entire equation is just arithmetic; there ain't any spirit in sight.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews

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