Friday, May 04, 2007

Dirty Pretty Movie

I saw Dirty Pretty Things last night, at a study break sponsored by the Brown Students for Organ Donation (yes, there is a group for that). I wasn't overly excited about seeing it - illegal immigrants, organ trafficking and Audrey Tautou are not normally big draws for me - but I saw it anyway, since it was free, and there was also free food there. And the things is, it's a REALLY good movie.

It's just SO well done, masterful at employing a quirky naturalism and well-drawn characters to illuminate unpleasant social issues. I honestly was not expecting to like it very much at all, since I'm not usually into gritty "issue" indies, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and left wanting to know more about illegal organ trafficking and world immigration issues, subjects about which I'm admittedly quite ignorant.

The screenplay nomination (original, 2003) was well-deserved; in fact, of the films I remember seeing that year, I'd place its screenplay a close second to Lost in Translation... unless I count Dogville among the 2003 crop, since that's the year I saw it (in Europe). In that case, I'd have to think a bit harder. Anyway, the writing is great, and Frears is in top form (I'm starting to really like him as a director... I can't recall his ever making a bad film). But what really drew me in was the acting.

These actors know what a rich script they have to work with, and all do solid work throughout. Chiwitel Ejiofor, an actor of whom I've seen little, is an effective and sympathetic lead; he plays a Nigerian immigrant in London working as a bellhop in a hotel. Sergi Lopez (now of Pan's Labyrinth fame) is also good as a hotel employee who runs a covert organ trafficking operation (he clearly has a knack for playing villains). Sophie Okonedo is a hoot in her small role as a British hooker with a heart of gold, having lots of fun here before catching oscar's eye the following year (for Hotel Rwanda).

But the real surprise (for me) was Audrey Tautou. Before this, I'd only seen her in Amélie, where she was cute enough, but not exactly challenged as an actor. I remember being slightly annoyed at her brief period of ubiquity and the oscar talk surrounding that performance. But here, she really proves her chops as a Turkish immigrant working as a maid in London and illegally housing Ejiofor's character. She manages to make her character naive and hardened, vulnerable and steely, and absolutely believable as a Turk (not that I'd know the difference, but whatever). Hers was probably my favorite performance, simply because I was not expecting to like it, and she and Ejiofor make a compelling romantic pair.

Anyway, give this one a chance. It's worth seeing, even four years down the line. It takes a while to get going, and is somewhat drab and dreary overall, but the writing and acting is so lovely and humanistic, and the directing so accomodating, that I was totally drawn into this story by the end. This is a great example of a film that manages to shed light on complex issues in the best and simplest way possible: by giving them a human face. When shown for what they really are, dirty things (and people) become pretty, too.

Verdict: "A solid dramedy, powered by charming writing and performances. Highly recommended."

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