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Dirty Pretty Things (R)
Official Site
Director: Stephen Frears
Producers: Robert Jones, Tracey Seaward
Written by: Steve Knight
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tautou, Sergi Lůpez, Sophie Okonedo, Benedict Wong, Zlatko Buric

Rating: out of 5

A little warning:

First, DO NOT READ ANY MORE REVIEWS OF THIS FILM ANYWHERE UNTIL YOU SEE IT! Unless you can trust that critic not to spoil the emotional impact of a great film through tactless disclosure of plot twists, please be careful. In fact, I wouldnít even watch a trailer for this film, and certainly donít visit the website, unless you might be thinking of skipping this film entirely. Donít do that.

Now, relax. Iím not going to give anything away. Trust me, Iím not that kind of critic. The film was released last year in Europe. A lot of people are talking like itís old news, and you probably havenít seen it yet. Citizen Kane may qualify for social security, and Iím still not going to tell you about ďRosebud.Ē

The reason for this care is not because Dirty Pretty Things is a great who-done-it where you are shocked to find that ďthe butler did itĒ or that ďSoylent Green is,Ē well, you know; but it sure is being sold that way. A lot of people are going to see this film because it looks suspenseful. A lot of people will see this film because they think itís some sort of black comedy, a murder mystery, or a tawdry action adventure. I hope a lot of people will see it, but some of these people are going to be disappointed. I hate to think that the reason for these misunderstandings is because marketing believes that people wonít go to see a film anymore unless it fits neatly into some easy category of entertainment. See the film, then think about the advertising. Something stinks here.

And it isnít the film! There is plenty of mystery, suspense, and even a little action, but none of it is formulaic. Each successive surprise is meaningful, genuine, and sometimes illuminating, never contrived and never melodramatic. As the poster says, ďSome things are too dangerous to keep secret.Ē I feel that the true quality of this movie must be one of those things. I donít give out five stars like candy, but this film deserves consideration and may still earn that last half-star yet. Iím wrestling with it as I write.

This is a movie for people who are tired of seeing modern movies, a film about survival, human dignity, morality, idealism, and dreams, in the face of a very unforgiving and relentlessly cruel reality. For example, I will divulge the pivotal location, The Baltic Hotel, where all manner of bad things happen. You know, the usualódrugs, prostitution. However this hotel doesnít look sleazy in any hackneyed, stereotypical way. Iíd stay there. For England, itís pretty damned nice, actually. I even wonder if that was the directorís intentional symbolism? Obvious and unmistakable on closer inspection, almost everything about this film enjoys subtlety.

The director, Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette, Dangerous Liaisons), evidently doesnít need to resort to stereotypes to tell a story. There is nothing ostentatious in his visual style, but with the help of cinematographer Chris Menges, he presents a visceral glimpse of Britainís ethnic underclass. This world easily could serve as the soapbox from which Frears harps about injustice. Instead, he generally lets the viewers sort out the implications of what they see. To be honest, you do get a little sermonizing, but no more than the characters themselves feel justified in delivering. Iíll sure indulge them, though. They have earned our attention. The pace and cameraís loving detailing of the actors may seem a bit unjustified at first. Be patient. It pays off.

So, here is what the film is: a character study of many characters. Now, that usually implies ďboring,Ē but not this film. The lead character, Okwe (Ejiofor) recalls Sidney Poitier in To Sir, With Love, with all of the intensity and dignity, but with less romantic sensationalism. The film triumphs on his performance. Senay (Tautou) is a modest Turkish and Islamic chambermaid. For one of the most simply elegant and beautiful actresses in the world today to conquer this disturbing role, Iíll forgive the tiniest quibble over her accent. She may not be Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, but she comes a lot closer than you would ever imagine. Sneaky (Lůpez) provides such a richly detailed villain that the film might have been a classic tragedy about him. Ivan (Buric), Julliette (Okonedo), and Guo Yi (Wong) provide welcome humor and insight. All of their performances are nothing short of stupendous. But for the need of brevity, I should include every single actor/actress in the film. In the study of the craft of film acting, this film is a benchmark.

What remains are all the other artists who contributed to the film. The music (Nathan Larson) is unobtrusive and highly effective, right down to the credits song with David Byrne, who has clearly been practicing. This is Steve Knightís second feature screenplay, and it provides a great platform for the performances. It might have been a bit more innovative, but his third screenplay, I hope, will answer this question. The producers, executive and managing, may have some rather unpretentious backgrounds. Iíll say this, unlike another Frears film, High Fidelity, you donít feel like you need to get the outtakes on DVD to find out what the filmmakers originally intended. Some critics may make fun of these craftsmen. Go ahead, laugh all you want; they know what they have achieved.

In my opinion, Dirty Pretty Things is an almost perfect film, but what do I know? Iím good at chess.

óSteven Harding


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

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