A somewhat creepy, unusual little drama/thriller from director Stephen Frears ("Liam", "High Fidelity"), "Dirty Pretty Things" focuses on Nigerian refugee Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Turkish illegal Senay (Audrey Tautou), who arrive in London to find themselves working at a hotel. He is a doctor by trade, but finds himself working as a cabbie by day and a hotel clerk at night.
One night, he's advised that there might be a problem with one of the rooms. When he checks it out, the toilet appears to be blocked up. Reaching in, he finds that the source of the problem is a human heart. When he confronts his hotel manager (Sergi Lopez) and others in the hotel, they don't know anything about it.
Meanwhile, Okwe is living with Senay, who has no work permit and is not supposed to be letting anyone live with her. He's finding himself attracted to her, despite the fact that he's married. Ah, but there's the whole heart thing. After some digging, Okwe finds that his boss is running an illegal organ operation, which could pull him in.
The film is a consistently strange and involving one, with a series of twists and turns that are interesting and well-handled, with the movie wisely offering tidbits of information only as necessary. The tension of being caught hangs over the proceedings, as the lower-class immigrant characters seem to exist with little acknowledgement from society, who only notices them when they think they can exploit them.
Proceeding in a low-key, straightforward fashion (which thankfully proceeds with a pace less deliberate than the director's last film), Frears manages to make the film's seedy, shadowy and nightmarish world seem all the more convincing. Aiding in the atmosphere and look of the film are ace cinematographer Chris Menges ("The Good Thief"), production designer Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski ("The Truth About Charlie", "Snatch") and set decorator Linda Wilson (who also worked on director Guy Ritchie's "Snatch"), among others.
I also liked the film's performances. Chiwetel Ejiofor is excellent in the lead, offering a performance that portray's the character's moral struggles, complexity and emotions quite believably. Audrey Tautou, so popular from "Amelie", has an accent that's a little hard to get used to at first, but her performance is otherwise very good. Benedict Wong is also terrific in a small role as a mortician who befriends Okwe
An unusual film, not everything about "Dirty Pretty Things" locks into place smoothly, but Frears handles these two stories - one about underclass immigrants struggling to find their place in an unforgiving world and the other about a dangerous black market - quite capably in this off-beat drama/thriller.
VIDEO: "Dirty Pretty Things" is presented by Miramax in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a largely excellent transfer that portrays the film's look quite strongly. Lighting and shadows look well-defined and the the picture overall has a crisp, clean appearance, with fine details visible even in most backgrounds.
A very minor amount of grain was present in a couple of scenes and I did notice an instance or two of specks on the print used, but overall, the presentation appeared very clean. Compression artifacts were not seen throughout the film and pleasantly enough, neither was edge enhancement. The film's interesting color palette, which offered occasional instances of vivid colors and scenes that appeared more subdued, was presented without issues. The layer change, at about 1:04:00, seemed to last a few beats too long.
SOUND: "Dirty Pretty Things" is presented by Miramax in Dolby Digital 5.1. Clearly a dialogue-driven affair, the film's soundtrack offers little for the rear speakers to do. Surrounds do come in on a couple of occasions for light ambience, but that's really about all they do. Dialogue seemed clearly presented, sounding natural and offered without any instances of distortion or other concerns.
EXTRAS: Director Stephen Frears offers an intelligent, informative commentary that, despite some gaps of silence, is very enjoyable. Frears has a sense of humor about himself and his work, providing some moments where he chats about things that he feels would have worked better in an alternate format or simply don't work. Frears also chats about the difficulties of shooting in London, working with the actors and constructing a thriller. He also points out further details about locations and some additional background information about members of the supporting cast. Also included on the DVD is a brief 6-minute "making of" and "sneak peek" trailers for other Miramax/BV titles.
Final Thoughts: Two stories that could have mixed rather messily are neatly handled by director Stephen Frears in this memorable tale. Miramax's DVD edition offers very good video quality, fine audio and a few enjoyable supplements. Recommended for fans; others might want to try a rental first.
The Film ***