Published Aug 01, 2003Dirty Pretty Things offers a rich and realistic portrayal of the experience of illegal immigrants in a supposedly tolerant, multicultural society a subject woefully under-represented in mainstream film today.
Set in London, the story centres around Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an enigmatic but morally upright Nigerian doctor who drives a cab by day and works the night shift at the front desk of a hotel of questionable repute. Okwe develops a close relationship with fellow illegal Senay (Audrey Tautou of Amélie), who works in the hotel as a maid and lets him sleep on her couch, an act which attracts the heat of immigration officials.
When Okwe discovers an organ-selling ring being run out of the hotel, his reptilian boss (Sergi López) wants to capitalise on Okwe's medical experience and tries to blackmail him into becoming involved. From there, the film briefly forays into almost Hollywood-style caper territory as Okwe and Senay hatch a plan to attempt escape from their impossible situation.
The film skilfully conveys the difficulty of building a life as a member of this invisible illegal underclass, cut off as they are from the services that most take for granted, forced into unpleasant and hugely underpaid labour regardless of their previous education and occupations, and made vulnerable to the black market types who prey on their tenuous social positions. The characters observe their bleak situation with a gallows humour that is deft and affecting. Ejiofor's presence as Okwe is dignified and understated, if a little stiff at times and Tautou is excellent as the Turkish maid who is far more resilient than her innocent exterior belies.
The great cast is rounded out by Sophie Okonedo as one of the hotel's frequent prostitute guests, Benedict Wong as Okwe's friend and medical supply connection, whose detached bemusement provides the film's funniest material, and the terrifically sleazy Sergi López, who practically oozes as the callous hotel boss. It shouldn't be this rare or remarkable to see such a plurality of faces and experiences given a voice on film. It shouldn't be, but sadly it is. (Alliance Atlantis)