Dirty Pretty Things

It is really starting to get annoying how studios are promoting every movie that Audrey Tautou is in. Yes, she was charming in Amelie. And yes, she was the star of He Love Me, He Loves Me Not. However, along came a nice small movie called L'Auberge Espagnole, and Tautou's name was all over the place. She had the smallest main role in the film. Yet, because of Amelie, they want to drag in as many people as possible to see the film. It's a disingenuous way to do it, but on the flip side, L'Auberge Espagnole got additional publicity it otherwise would not have. Still, it's not a great thing to do, and will be especially glaring if Tautou guests in a stinker. Dirty Pretty Things is not a stinker. And Tautou is not the star, although she is the only person who appears in the promotional posters.

Dirty Pretty Things takes place in London, but can just as take place in New York, Los Angeles, or any other city with a large immigrant population. They are a necessary part of each city's work force, taking the work and low wages that other people will not. Chiwetel Ejiofor is Okwe, an African immigrant who works at a hotel and as a driver. He has medical training, but does not practice, and is elusive when questioned about his past. He lives on the couch of Senay (Tautou), and illegal Turkish immigrant. She works at the same hotel, and although the two are friends, she is a strict Muslim and insists that the two are not in Senay's apartment at the same time. During a shift at the hotel, Okwe discovers a human heart clogging a toilet, and brings it to the attention of Senor Juan (Sergi Lopez, Jet Lag, With a Friend Like Harry), the hotel manager, who refuses to do anything about it. He volunteers Okwe to call the police, but Okwe is in the country illegally, so that is not an option.

This discovery sets events in motion that will drastically change Senay and Okwe's lives. Okwe's conscience forces him to begin investigating where the heart came from, which leads to another horrifying discovery. What's fascinating about Steve Knight's (Gypsy Woman) script is how Okwe and Senay seem to live in a different world. All of the people they encounter daily are like them, trying as hard as they can just to eke out a living. Knight is also able to infuse a surprising amount of extremely black comedy into the mix, making the script more complex.

The best thing is that Okwe and Senay are basically smart people. Director Stephen Frears (Liam, High Fidelity) forces the two to face impossible choices that tests the core of their personalities. Okwe and Senay must make choose between betraying their religion and values else face deportation or even death. Ejiofor and Tautou give nuanced performances, good enough that at no time is it evident what they will do. Frears and Knight also throw in a wonderfully ingenious ending where people get exactly what they deserve. It is nice seeing English performances from Tautou and Lopez, who is able to still seem extremely creepy when he smiles. Still, Dirty Pretty Things belongs to Ejiofor, whose performance is the emotional core of the film.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 47 minutes, Rated R for sexual content, disturbing images, and language.

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