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Dirty Pretty Things (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: None stated, as yet.

THE issue of asylum seekers remains one of the most emotive topics facing Britons today, with many considering them to be a blight on the government’s resources and a nuisance in general.

Thus, the idea of sitting through a film which actually takes time to delve into their plight, showing how they are often exploited because of their vulnerability, might not seem like the inspiration for one of the better thrillers of the year.

Yet Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things makes for compelling viewing; one that is not only socially aware, but which grips the viewer throughout, with its dark mix of gothic horror, unspoken feelings and decency against the odds.

Theatre favourite, Chiwetel Ejiofor, stars as Okwe, a young Nigerian exile living in London, who drives a cab by day and works in a hotel by night.

Forced to lead an invisible existence, but driven by an overwhelming sense of right and wrong, Okwe is suddenly thrown into a moral conundrum when he makes a grim discovery in one of the hotel’s bedrooms but is powerless to act because of his status.

Frears’ film works on many levels, managing to create a side of London that is seldom seen. The director maintains that he wanted to delve into the ‘underside’ of the capital to peek into the ‘grubby side of life’ and has succeeded in creating a dark and sinister underworld, where everything is for sale and human rights are frequently violated.

Thrown into this melting pot are the likes of Audrey Tautou’s Turkish refugee, Senay, who is secretly in love with Okwe, and Sergi Lopez’s sleazy hotel boss, Sneaky, who frequently uses the plight of his staff to gain a personal (usually financial) advantage.

The brainchild of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? creator, Steven Knight, Dirty Pretty Things is both a taut social thriller and a genuinely affecting love story, made all the more believable because of its grounding in reality. And while the issues it raises might not make for easy viewing, the film should be applauded for attempting to shed some light on a contentious subject, serving to show the hopelessness of one of the world’s mounting problems.

Of course, not everything works (certain characters are far too one-dimensional, such as the laughably aggressive immigration officers), but there is plenty to savour and Frears has certainly created one of the best British films of the year.

He also draws some fine performances from his multi-cultural cast, with Amelie’s Tautou genuinely affecting as the proud but vulnerable Senay, and Benedict Wong providing some much-needed light relief as one of Okwe’s friends.

But it is the rapidly-emerging Ejiofor who shines brightest, as the charismatic Okwe, a character whose over-riding sense of decency provides a sense of hope in a situation which, for the most part, offers very little. He, more than anyone, helps to ensure that the film carries such a strong emotional punch.

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