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Dirty Pretty Things
Written: Steve Knight
Directed: Stephen Frears
Staring: Audrey Tautou, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Sophie Okonedo

London, taking pretty things and making them dirty for over three hundred years!

Elsewhere in this issue you can see me bitch about the sorry state of the black comedy in this modern golden age of cinema - whatever the fuck that means. But while one genre atrophies and dies, maybe here is another one that will rise through the art-house ranks and make some sort of a dent on the movie world: The Bittersweet Drama. You know, those movies that are serious and severe without feeling too heavy, or guilt-ridden. They are depressing without actually depressing you. The Pianist is a great example; while it tells the story of one of the greatest atrocities in human history, it never tries to tug at the heartstrings or make the watcher feel responsible. In fact, there are even light-hearted moments scattered around the movie, with humor and joy and everything. It's a drama that isn't overly dramatic.

Stephen Frears' (Dangerous Liaisons, High Fidelity, The Grifters) latest film fits nicely in this genre. Dirty Pretty Things is a near perfect movie, with characters and performances that simply will not be bested by anyone this year. With creepy - but not too creepy - music and a cool style - but not stylized - and an even simple pace, the movie takes you through the twisted world of London's illegal aliens.

The character development is terrific. Both main characters Okwe (Ejiofor) and Senay (Tautou) are deep and rounded; what's so cool about them is that you realize they are deep and rounded from the first shot, but it takes the entire movie to realize what is actually making them tick. For the entire hour and a half you fill in little blanks here and there, the movie never just presents it's characters and tells you what they are, or why they are or, or anything. This is a huge testament to the writing by Knight who has managed to pound out a truly impressive script as his debut.

Free Williamsburg
Film Archive

2003

Garage Days
Dirty Pretty Things
Buffalo Soldiers
The Sea Is Watching
Garmento
Capturing the Friedmans
The Eye
28 Days Later
Spellbound
Cowboy Bebop

Washington Heights
Better Luck Tomorrow
Confidence
View From the Top

Laurel Canyon

Spider
Spun
Ordinary Sinner
Dark Blue
Chaos
The Quiet American
XX/YY

2002

Intacto
Empire
Max
Hell House
Good Housekeeping
Roger Dodger
Spirited Away
Punch-Drunk Love
Bowling For Columbine
Scarlet Diva
Full Frontal
Sex and Lucia
The Powerpuff Girls Movie
Read My Lips (Sur Mes Levres)
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
Barleby
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Human Nature
Shot in the Heart
Jim Brown: All American
Stolen Summer
Curve
Ram Dass: Fierce Grace
Storytelling


There are some really amazing devices peppered throughout Dirty Pretty Things; not so many that the movie is over spiced, mind you -- just enough to make it interesting. As an example, Okwe holds two jobs both of which work him to the bone and consequently he is awake for the entire movie almost contiguously. To aid him in his wakefulness Okwe chews on some strange herbal stimulant that he is constantly told will drive him crazy. And so as the movie goes deeper and deeper into its story, he grows edgier, his eyes get redder and his actions more frantic. Whether this is from the herb or simply his reaction to the mess he's found himself in, you never really know. But Frears mimics Okwe's attitude with faster edits, and a grittier feel to the movie as it progresses. It's nice when a script finds a way to justify the style of the directing; and this happens many times throughout the movie.

Virtually ever character that has a line in this movie has a significant amount of depth. While the movie obviously focuses on Okwe and Senay, there is a host of secondary characters who are all just as interesting and just as three-dimensional as the two leads - in some cases more so. Benedict Wong as a graveyard shit mortician who is terrible at chess; Sophie Okonedo, a hotel hooker who may not have a heart of gold, but has at least a platinum disposition. And Juan and Ivan and all of them; any one of these characters could have been the focus of their own movie. Knight clearly had a very clear idea of his characters in his head while he wrote the script.

Dirty Pretty Things is easily one of the best movies to come out this year. I doubt it will garner any accolades or recognition, but does anyone actually care? Except me, that is. Because I do, you know… care, I mean. Which is strange for a film critic. We're all supposed to be this heartless pack of single celled organisms. But some of us do care about these things. Very much.

The Ratings

Half a sickle, no star

That's supposed to be a mangled Turkish flag, for those who are geographically inept or simply don't appreciate my icon-art. But I mean really, a French girl who can't speak English pretending she's a Turkish alien living in downtown London!? Who was smoking too much crack one day and thought that was a good idea? The resulting accent sound pretty much as bad as you think it might. Tautou proves with this movie that she can act, but please. Lets stick to french for now.

Four Golden Typewriters, with some especially brilliant monkeys

While the directing and acting are excellent, the screenplay is the real treasure of this movie -- especially considering it's his first feature script. I seriously doubt there will be a better original screenplay in either the mainstream or the indie movie circuit this year.

Three and a half hipsters

I have to take points away for Audrey Tautou's utterly atrocious accent. Aside from that however, this is a fabulous movie. It might appeal more to the movie buff than the average art-house Joe simply because it's such a technical masterpiece, but there is plenty of dirt and blood and sex for fairly widespread appeal.

 

--B.C. Edwards
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[email protected] | July 2003 | Issue 40
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