Dirty Pretty Things Review
Daily Mail readers beware, Dirty Pretty Things may not be your cup of tea. You see, Stephen Frears 2002 film is about the lives of two illegal immigrants living in London, trying to survive against the threat of deportation and trying to earn enough money to survive. They're not potential terrorists, they're not going around mugging old grannies and they're not peddling drugs to London's chaved up kids.
Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is trained as a doctor but fled Nigeria following the death of his wife and is eking out a tiny living as a taxi driver and hotel worker. Senay (Audrey Tatou) is an asylum seeker from Turkey and shares both her workplace and home with Okwe. Senay harbours hopes of one day moving to New York, Okwe just wants to be reunited with his daughter in Lagos. Dodging immigration officials, Senay is forced to leave her job in the hotel and starts work in a sweatshop. With immigration on her tail she is forced by blackmail to satisfy the urges of her boss, otherwise she'll again be forced out onto the streets with no hope of finding enough money to live. As life becomes more desperate, the options open to her become even less appealing and when the opportunity to go to New York presents itself in return for one of her kidneys there is little Okwe can do to convince her to change her mind.
Dirty Pretty Things is one of those films that defies expectations. It's a down and dirty, honest look at the lives of two illegal immigrants on London's streets. Both from hugely different backgrounds and with different aspirations and hopes they still find a bond that develops into a deep-seated love; one which isn't about passion but rather about being there for each other. Frears' film turns the dark and dingy underbelly of London into a living, breathing place that people live and despite adversity Okwe and Senay stick together until the end. Both Tatou and Ejiofor turn in unforgettable performances. Audrey Tatou is probably best known to UK cinema viewers as Amelie but her role here quickly erases any memory of Jeunet's quirky film. Okwe is the films understated hero and Chiwetel Ejiofor manages to keep the character in touch - he'd do absolutely anything for Senay and you really believe it.
Frears has created a film which has a heart surrounded by some truly gritty subject matter. It's not hard hitting, but then it's not supposed to be, and while the organ trade is very dark material indeed, sensitive direction and writing mean that this doesn't overpower the film. It is very much a story about two very different people stuck in the same situation - and in that respect shares it's core with Lost In Translation but the core is very much where the similarities end. Yes, Dirty Pretty Things is a film with a Message, but it's not a preachy one. It has it's clichés too; the "hooker with a heart of gold" (played well by Sophie Okonedo), "the very bad man who gets his comeuppance" (Sergi López' evil Hotelier, Juan) and the "incompetent policemen" (or immigration officials in this case - you'd thing their training would have covered looking left and right when sticking your head out of a window looking for an immigrant on the run), but as a whole they're all there to support the main story rather than be part of it. Every one is a caricature, and we don't need or want to know anything more about them than their introductions provide.
Buena Vista have done everything they can to make this release as bare-bones as possible. The film as a sub-90 minute running time, the menus are only animated in the most basic way (which is in fact a very good thing) and there absolutely no extras other than a couple of trailers for other entirely unrelated films.
The picture quality is good with an accurate reproduction of the master - as befits a film of this style, it has been filmed to give an air of grittiness and this has been preserved here with all of the film-based grain intact. This sometimes gives the picture a soft look, but thankfully Buena Vista haven't attempted to compensate by applying too much digital enhancement. Shadow detail is good and the muted colour pallet comes across well.
The Dolby Digital soundtrack is functional but nothing more. With little use made of the surround channels, there is little need for anything special. What we have is perfectly clear and provides the necessary ambience without ever going over the top.
Dirty Pretty Things is a good film. It's not a mainstream piece of work but as a character study focusing on a group of people that would rarely be considered suitable for a feature film it's a success. The DVD is functional but the total lack of extra features is a huge disappointment.