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By Don R. Lewis | July 29, 2003

“Dirty Pretty Things” is a romance wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a tale of redemption or something like that. To be honest, I’m not sure what the film really is as far as a genre goes. One thing is for sure, it’s a damn fine film.
Set in seedy London, “Dirty Pretty Things” catches up with two illegal immigrants Okwe (Ejiofor) from Africa and Senay (Tatou) from Turkey. Although the film is set in the UK, there are clear parallels between the illegal immigrants there and the ones here in the US They are treated, for the most part, as non-people. They live in the shadows and work for cash so their secret isn’t revealed.
Okwe works two crappy jobs. One as a cab driver and the other as a night shift desk clerk at a fancy hotel. He rents Senay’s couch and sleeps while she works as a maid at the same hotel during the day. One night Okwe makes a grisly discovery in one of the hotel rooms, but finds he has nowhere to go.
If he calls the police, they’ll deport him or send him to prison. He opts to tell the sleazy hotel manager (Lopez) who in turns offers him cash to shut up about it. Quiet character development reveals Okwe to be a truly good person. However, his eyes reveal there’s some kind of a secret he’s hiding. He refuses sleep and works as much as he can. His past is unknown.
Chiwetal Ejiofor as Okwe is flat out amazing. This film revels in the silent situations it creates and allows the viewer to be challenged along with the character. We grow attached to Okwe, but his background is still shrouded in mystery. Still, we trust him and want to see him solve the mystery he has unwittingly uncovered. Tatou is also terrific and this film goes far to bury her cute “Amélie ” persona.
But this film isn’t just a mystery about downtrodden immigrants trying to survive. There’s nice comic touches and the international cast is perfect. This film also trusts that the audience will follow what is going on silently with Okwe and Senay and that in itself is refreshing.
I don’t know where screenwriter Steve Knight has been hiding, but this film is really original and creative. Stephen Frears fans will also note hints of the gritty slime that was evident in “The Grifters” as well as the simple humor of “High Fidelity.”
“Dirty Pretty Things” does keep a pretty languid pace, but I found myself totally absorbed by this film. The end scene of the film is also one of the best I’ve ever seen. Perhaps the best thing about this film is, we never really know where it’s heading until the final fade out when all becomes clear and all loose ends are tied up.

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