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Dirty Pretty Things  (2002)


Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tautou, Sergi López

Director: Stephen Frears

Rating: R

Distributor: Buena Vista Entertainment

Release Date: March 23, 2004
Review posted: March 23, 2004

Spoilers: Minor


Reviewed by Dennis Landmann




Part of an invisible working class, Nigerian exile Okwe (Ejiofor) and Turkish chambermaid Senay (Tautou) toil at a west London hotel that is full of illegal activity. Then late one night Okwe makes a shocking discovery, which creates an impossible dilemma that will test their limits.




Dirty Pretty Things is a film that requires a little of the viewer's patience because only 40 minutes into it does the plot finally begin to unravel bit by bit. This might sound like a hard thing to do, but I don't think it is. The reason why is the script by Steven Knight focuses on a likeable, helpful, and overall good-natured illegal alien called Okwe as he tries to survive in and around London's dirtier parts. In fact, despite his status Okwe is perhaps a much more helpful and determined person than the average citizen living in the city and the outskirts. What makes the first 40 minutes watchable is the natural yet commanding performance by stage actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, yet the script aids in this also.



Not long after Okwe discovers a heart inside a toilet in one of the hotel's rooms, certain intriguing elements begin to emerge. He soon uncovers something is not right with hotel manager Senor Sneaky (Sergi López), something secret is going on. Meanwhile, Okwe shares an apartment with Senay, an immigrant from Turkey who wants to migrate to New York. The script puts strong emphasis on their relationship, and it works, because they have a lot of things in common; similar aspirations, work ethic, etc. Yet one of them is fragile, a trait that's explored towards the end of the film and serves up some really good moments.


The intrigue in Dirty Pretty Things builds slowly, but the conflict appears early on. All in all, the script is pretty good. It presents a cast of characters you almost never get to see in a film, making Okwe's line "We're the working class you never see" all the more telling. Dirty Pretty Things is far from being conventional, which might be another reason why it's interesting. Yet it's not without some flaws, mostly having to do with a slow pace and a beginning that takes longer than expected to get into the second act. The subplots that exist are good, but they don't serve the whole picture all too well. However, the script makes good by providing Okwe with an interesting and heartfelt background.



Stephen Frears does a nice job directing the script and the actors. Ejiofor's performance is grand, Audrey Tautou shows us a different side of her, playing a desperate character and speaking with a Turkish accent, and Sergi López pulls off the menacing demeanor of his character in a pretty good way. What's also good about the film is the cinematography by Chris Menges and the score by Nathan Larsen. Overall, this is a good film with a good script, great performances, and some nice intrigue.




Miramax presents Dirty Pretty Things in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colors are sometimes a bit muted or subdued, but the variety of colors in London's city lights or neon signs look quite nice. The color red is predominantly featured on screen, as are variations of blue and yellow-green. Colors stand out rather nicely, plus they're well-saturated to a certain degree. Detail looks nice, sharpness does, too. Dark tones and black levels are somewhat deep, but not all too consistent. The print image looks good without any big problems. Grain appears in certain scenes, as does a speck or two, but I couldn't find much or any evidence of compression artifacts or dirt on the print. A pretty good effort from Miramax.





Miramax presents Dirty Pretty Things in English 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound. Dialogue is clear and easy to understand, with the front speakers handling channel separation quite well. Surrounds reinforce the score and sound effects to good effect, but surround usage is not all that evident. Rear speakers have not much to act on, but the overall presentation is good for what's on screen; essentially a dialogue-driven film with several sequences composed to an effective score. A French dub track is included. Subtitles are for English only.




The main supplement is the audio commentary by director Stephen Frears. Despite his discussion on the actors, the script, and the production, he often takes long breaks between comments. The silence is often discouraging especially because his comments are not that insightful or interesting to begin with. I didn't learn very much from this track except for a few good tidbits, but those are too long in between moments of silence and uninteresting comments.


A behind-the-scenes featurette (6:15) describes the film's story and characters through interviews with Ejiofor, Tautou, Frears, screenwriter Stephen Knight, and the producer. There's some decent on-set footage and Frears talks briefly about casting the actors, but there's nothing interesting to be gleaned from this. In short, it's pretty forgettable. Rounding out the extras are bonus trailers for Magdalene Sisters, Veronica Guerin, American Gun, Amélie, and a Miramax trailer reel.


The 97-minute feature is organized into seventeen chapters. There is no paper insert. The DVD cover doesn't reflect the film's overall tone and Tautou is only a supporting character in the film yet she receives top billing, plus her naked-like appearance on the cover is misleading. Sadly and unfairly, Miramax chose not to feature Chiwetel Ejiofor on the cover or even mention his name. A better cover should've been designed.




Dirty Pretty Things is not for everyone, but I'm recommending it to those viewers who like the thriller genre. Those interested in a little intrigue might also give this film a shot as a rental. BV's video/audio is pretty nice and the few extras are appreciated, but they're not insightful.




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