London’s seedy underbelly and the victims who get caught in the middle take center stage in Stephen Frears excellent film Dirty Pretty Things
Directed Stephen Frears
Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Audrey Tatou
Released by Miramax Pictures and BBC Films
(2002) 97 min.
I worked in a video store in Montreal a few years back, and each clerk got to have their own shelf of films to recommend to the customers. Dirty Pretty Things was always on my shelf. With top notch acting, writing and directing if there was ever anyway possible that I could actually create a list of my top ten favorite films I’d seriously consider putting this one on the list.
The film tells the story of Owke, a Nigerian doctor who is struggling to make ends meet in his new life in London. Working as a cab driver by day, hotel clerk by night, Owke is haunted by the past and unable sleep because of it. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives one of his best performances as a man in an impossible situation doing his best to keep his head above water. One thing that makes life a little easier is the beautiful Turkish maid Senay (Amelie’s Audrey Tatou) who works at the same hotel and dreams of one day living with her cousin in New York City. Senay is also Owke’s roommate- but because of her devout Muslim beliefs never lets him in the apartment at the same time. Ejiofor and Tatou have amazing chemistry as two people who have a hard time admitting their obvious attraction to each other.
Owke’s already complicated life takes a turn for the worse one night when Juliette, a prostitute who frequents the hotel (the fabulous Sophie Okonedo who steals every scene she’s in) tells him he should check out one of the rooms. Once inside, Owke is shocked to find a human heart blocking the toilet. Owke goes to the hotel manager, the deliciously sleazy Mr. Juan- aka “Sneaky” (Sergi Lopez) with the disturbing news. To Owke’s shock Juan quickly dismisses the news and has a fool proof way to make sure Owke keeps his mouth shut. “Well we can call the police Owke but then you’ll have to talk to themâ€¦ what’s your full name again?” Juan asks Owke, confirming what he apparently already knew- Owke is living in England illegally.
It doesn’t take Owke long to uncover that Juan is running a black market organ ring, using other illegals working at the hotel as donors. These donors are happy to help Juan because he promises them the one thing they all so desperately want; new identities as British citizens. When Juan discovers that Owke is a doctor, he tries blackmailing him several different ways into joining his operation. Out of all the methods that Juan uses-including discovering the reason he fled Nigeria- Juan knows what’ll hurt Owke the most is to send immigration officials after Senay. As a result of the immigration visit Senay is forced to quit working at the hotel and takes a job at a seedy underground sweat shop. Juan knows he only has to play the waiting game until Senay is fed up with the sweat shop and sure enough, one afternoon she shows up at his office. Now with Senay’s life in his hands, Juan knows he finally has Owke in his pocket.
I won’t spoil the ending for you but I promise those who deserve it get what’s coming to them. Dirty Pretty Things is a tough look at London’s invisible society, but an also an incredibly rewarding one. It’s the perfect kind of rainy day Sunday movie, or if you want a bit of a reality check after you think you had a bad day at work.