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!
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.
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.
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
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