out of Five
: 107 mins
With terrific performances, great characters and a sharp script, Stephen Frears’ latest is one of the best films of the year.
Let’s face it, if someone were to ask you the question ‘What was the last great film Stephen Frears made?', you’d have a hard job coming up with anything since Dangerous Liaisons and that was fourteen years ago.
You’d certainly have to admit that he’s never quite lived up to the promise shown by his early ‘London’ films, such as My Beautiful Laundrette or Prick Up Your Ears.
In short, it’s been a long time since the words “A film by Stephen Frears” were anything to get excited about. Which is why it’s something of a surprise that his latest film, Dirty Pretty Things, marks a definite return to form and, as such, is one of the best films of the year.
The film takes place in London, among the unseen world of illegal
immigrants. It could easily have been a straightforward drama about that subject alone (like, say, Last Resort), but Frears and screenwriter Steven Knight have taken the characters and their situations and fashioned an effective thriller around them.
Star In The Making
Chiwetel Ejiofor (a true star in the making - here's hoping he goes on to do more films like this) stars as Okwe, a kind-hearted Nigerian doctor, living in London and holding down two jobs, as a mini-cab driver and a hotel desk clerk. He doesn't sleep very much (instead relying on an unidentified plant that he chews to stay awake), but when he does, he sleeps on the sofa of Turkish immigrant (and Hotel Maid) Senay, played by Audrey Tautou (Amelie), who turns in a respectable English language performance.
The hotel is run by Senor "Sneaky" (Spanish actor Sergi López) and is the sort of place where no one questions anyone else. As Lopez says "People come to these rooms to do dirty things, and we clean up after them." However, when Okwe finds a human heart in one of the toilets, he uncovers something far more sinister than just common or garden prostitution and drug taking.
The three central performances are perfectly cast - you really get to like and care about both Okwe and Senay, and López brings an oddly likeable quality to his complex role. The supporting characters are excellent, too, particularly Okwe's Chinese mortician friend (Benedict Wong, who gets most of the best lines), but also the hotel doorman (Zlatko Buric), the prostitute (Sophie Okonedo) and the mini-cab boss (who Okwe has to help out with an embarrassing problem).
It's not entirely flawless, however – the two immigration officers, for
example, come across as poorly drawn caricatures, which seems odd, what with such great character-work elsewhere. However, this is a minor criticism and one that doesn’t detract from the film.
The script is intelligent, with a lot of humour – there are many great
scenes. Similarly, the story is compelling (leading you to wonder just what does go on all around us) and the acting is superb. It also looks fantastic, courtesy of Director of Photography Chris Menges, who gives the film a strong element of reality, whilst still ensuring that it looks very cinematic, in terms of lighting and colour.
To sum up, this is quite simply unmissable, and the best London-set film since Michael Winterbottom’s Wonderland. Join the returns queue now and catch it at the festival before it opens nationwide in December. Highly recommended.