Sunday, August 31, 2003

Dirty Pretty Things (IMDB) (Netflix)
If you're an illegal immigrant, your dreams are prey to all kinds of people, not just John Ashcroft. Amelie's Audrey Tautou plays a very different role, a young Turkish hotel maid in London, dreaming of going to New York but lacking the paperwork. She's befriended by Okwe, another illegal, who discovers one of the more sordid false identity scams being run by fellow hotelier "Sneaky"(Sergi Lopez). Directed by Stephen Frears, responsible for the successful High Fidelity and Dangerous Liaisons.

It's billed as a thriller, and the poster of an undressed Tautou promises other attractions, but the film is neither. Usually that kind of marketing misrepresentation is the signal for junk, but this is a case of hiding quality under a cheesy wrapper. The story is mostly Okwe's, and the actor who plays him (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is first-rate, creating a tone of dignified torment as he tries to figure out an honorable way out of his and Tautou's predicament. Lopez is the perfect opportunist, and Benedict Wong is the ideal philosopher-mortician. The tension builds slowly and the payoff is quietly satisfying. Not the slickest or quickest film, but an original one that has something useful to say.