Film-Forward Review: [DIRTY PRETTY THINGS]

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Audrey Tautou & Chiwetel Ejiofor
Photo: Miramax

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Directed by: Stephen Frears.
Produced by: Tracey Seaward & Robert Jones.
Written by: Steven Knight.
Director of Photography: Chris Menges.
Edited by: Mick Audsley.
Music by: Nathan Larson.
Released by: Miramax.
Country of Origin: UK. 97 min. Rated: R.
With: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tautou, Sergi Lopez & Sophie Okonedo.
DVD Features: Commentary by Stephen Frears. Behind-the-scenes special. English/French audio. English Subtitles.

The spirit of Tom Joad lives in Okwe (Ejiofor), an illegal alien from Nigeria. He’s a mini cab driver by day and the concierge of a swanky London hotel by night. He sleeps only a few hours in the apartment he surreptitiously shares with hotel maid Senay (Amélie’s Tautou), a devout Turkish Muslim. She isn’t allowed to work or to let her apartment because she is seeking political asylum. Through a grizzly discovery at the hotel, Okwe learns of a sinister black market (not unlike the scam in 1996’s Extreme Measures) run by the dubiously enterprising hotel manager Sneaky (no subtlety there), where desperate immigrants’ lives are at risk.

The idea of a well-known French star playing Senay may produce skepticism at first, but it’s the didactic dialogue, such as “For you and I, there’s only survival,” and the plot contrivances (Okwe’s convenient surgical skills and Senay’s predictable downfall) that might produce snickers. In fact, all of the characters are upstaged by the plot. Okwe’s past is straight out of a soap opera by Oliver Stone, and all we know about why Senay has immigrated is that she doesn’t want to live like her mother. The villain Sneaky (Lopez), is such a one-dimensional character with his smirk, flinty glare and slicked back hair that he doesn’t seem human. And Dirty's criticism of the U.K. asylum laws is a bit outdated after 9/11. By the time the suddenly loquacious Okwe delivers his sermon to the white English man, “We are the ones that drive your cars, clean your rooms...” the film, although intermittently suspenseful, remains unconvincing. Kent Turner
July 21, 2003

DVD Extras: Director Frears talks sparingly about filming in difficult locations, the development of a script only 50 percent true to its first draft, and of the actors. He points out his favorite shots and buildings, yet talks so briefly that the commentary is hardly distracting from the film at all. Although the commentary is an interesting look into the director's opinion of specific shots, it isn't intimate. The behind-the-scenes featurette is quite the opposite. Ejiofor, Tautou, Frears and other cast and crew members offer opinions about the characters and script. These interviews prove worthy of a look after watching the film. Lisette Johnson
May 16, 2004



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