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Dirty Pretty Things (2002) – DVD Review

Dirty Pretty Things DVD


Written by Steven Knight
Directed by Stephen Frears
Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tautou, Sergi López, Sophie Okonedo, Benedict Wong


  • Running audio commentary by director Frears
  • Behind the scenes featurette

Released by: Miramax.
Rating: R
Region: 1
Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Rent it.

Owke (Ejiofor) and Seney (Tautou) are workers in the gray economy of London; they’re not criminals but they’re not legal either. Owke, an illegal immigrant from Nigeria, works as a cab driver during the day and as a hotel desk clerk on the graveyard shift. Seney violates her refugee status by working as a maid at the same hotel as Owke. They share an apartment, another violation, but they manage to eke by. Things change when the unofficial hotel prostitute Juliette (Okonedo) reports an overflowing toilet in one of the rooms. When Owke investigates, he discovers that what’s clogging the toilet is a human heart. What follows is a spiral into the black market trade in human organs, with Owke becoming more of a participant than he likes, having been a doctor in his native land.

Dirty Pretty Things isn’t your typical movie thriller. There are no car chases, choreographed fight scenes, or massive amounts of gunfire. But it is steeped in the noir tradition with sleazy villains, dames in distress, and desperate heroes. Frears is comfortable in this milieu as can be seen in his work on The Grifters. With this type of story, the focus is on the characters, not on mindless action. Usually when illegal immigrants are shown in film and TV, there are shuffling victims, used and abused and waiting for rescue. Owke and Seney are different. While they may bow, they never break. Most immigrants are escaping from something so they’re acting not reacting. This doesn’t change when they cross the border. They work out little schemes for themselves and they will fight back. The script makes them people, not simply the huddled masses.

Of course without capable actors, this portrayal would never work. Ejiofor plays Owke with a sad and quiet dignity. He knows all too well how the world works but he still cares about suffering people and even impersonates as a hospital janitor to get antibiotics for an immigrant organ donor suffering from infection. You can almost see the burden of his conscious and his past on his shoulders. Still there is intelligence and some cunning behind his eyes. And Audrey Tautou is turning out to be a definite talent. Seney comes across as a woman who has turned inward trying to avoid attention. Besides the authorities her Muslim background makes her extremely cautious around men. She even politely but firmly rejects Owke’s interest. But there is a strength and passion under the surface that is slowly released when the situation becomes more and more desperate. This is a definite departure from the avatar of cuteness she played in Amélie. Still, if she is going to break into the American market big time, she needs to work on her English a bit more.

Audrey Tautou from Dirty Pretty Things

Included on the disc is a short ‘behind the scenes’ featurette. Unfortunately it’s mostly the cast and crew praising each other and offers no real depth into the film and those involved. The other major feature is a running commentary from the director Stephen Frears. You can tell from his talk how he works with his actors to get the best out of them. He particularly mentions having to help Tautou overcome her anxiety over her first English-speaking role. Frears, unlike some directors, does recognize his weaknesses and therefore gets talented people to help fill those gaps. Music is one place where he needs that help. He also acknowledges during the film where he made mistakes, like when he made the immigration officers too thuggish. Hearing that kind of honesty is refreshing.

Chiwetel Ejiofor from Dirty Pretty Things

Frears does leave some gaps in the commentary but I think he can be forgiven. Especially since he crafted a remarkable film. Definitely get Dirty Pretty Things for a rental.

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