Hide in Plain Sight
The plight of illegal immigrants in London breaks your heart in Dirty Pretty Things, a dramatic thriller directed by Stephen Frears and starring an outstanding multicultural cast. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Audrey Tautou deliver brilliant performances as a hard-working Nigerian fugitive and his skittish friend, a Turkish beauty who fled her home country to evade an arranged marriage. But, to me, Sergi Lopez, playing a villainous hotel manager who takes advantage of his employees, is the one who makes this film a must-see. With his slicked-back hair and know-it-all expression, Lopez exudes the same smarmy chemistry as George Raft did in those old gangster films -- but with more swagger and class. It's another great role for this actor who was so memorable in With a Friend Like Harry.
"Sneaky" is an excellent nickname for Lopez's character here. He oversees mysterious activities in the Baltic Hotel where Okwe (Ejiofor of Love Actually) and Senay (Tautou of Amelie) work as porter and maid. When Okwe discovers a body part clogging the plumbing in one of the rooms, he tries to find out what's going on. Sneaky tells him not to worry, for guests may leave dirty things -- but it's the hotel's business to pretty them up. Okwe has more important things to worry about anyway. He needs to concentrate on making sure immigration officials fail to catch him and Senay. And he must stay awake in order to keep his two jobs -- one at the hotel, another as a cab driver. Director Frears (The Grifters) and screenwriter Steve Knight (Gypsy Woman) weave these story threads into a cinematic tapestry of fear, suspense and compassion.
Skating around political debates concerning illegal immigrants, Dirty Pretty Things concentrates on the daily frustrations --including humiliation and terror -- faced by these individuals as they perform menial jobs in their new country. For example, to evade immigration officials, Senay spends time working in a sweatshop for a boss who expects sexual favors, and she even toys with the idea of becoming a kidney donor. Also, Okwe's cab-driving and hotel assignment are a gigantic step down for such a highly qualified physician.
Dirty Pretty Things may be painful to watch, but it's skillfully done on all levels. Recognizing the quality of filmmaking involved here, the San Diego Film Critics selected this movie as Best Picture of 2003 and named Ejiofor as Best Actor -- both excellent against-the-tide choices in a year filled with spectacles, remakes and computer-generated special effects.
On DVD, Dirty Pretty Things includes feature commentary with director Stephen Frears and a special behind-the-scenes featurette.
(Released by Miramax Home Entertainment and rated "R" for sexual content, disturbing images and language. DVD bonus features not rated.)