Dirty Pretty Things

dir. Frears

Opens Fri Aug 15

Various Theaters

I'm sad to announce that Dirty Pretty Things is a failure. True, it is a beautiful failure, as it is beautifully shot, with beautiful set designs, and beautiful actors (Amistad's Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays, with great success, a fallen but still noble Nigerian doctor, and Amélie's Audrey Tautou, who plays with considerably less success a vulnerable Turkish immigrant); but in terms of its concept, plot, and general message, the movie falls apart shortly after it starts.

One would not have expected Stephen Frears, the director of two of the best three films concerning new British immigrants--My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) and Sammie and Rosie Get Laid (1987); the third, My Son the Fanatic (1997), was directed by Udayan Prasad--to be so far off the mark with the subject matter of Dirty Pretty Things. Like his two earlier immigrant films, his latest is about interracial love, about a new generation inventing a new future and a whole new way of English life, and about how London is being transformed by these new and usually darker lives of people working in the city's hospitals, taxis, groceries, and restaurants. But whereas Frears' previous immigrant films were impressively original in the way they detailed violent and sexual exchanges between the past and present, the subjects in this film offer nothing more than a conventional interpretation of the lives of those who exist in the outskirts or the underground of present-day English society.

The movie involves a Nigerian doctor who works two menial jobs--he's a taxi driver during the day, and a hotel receptionist in the night (he never sleeps). Dirty Pretty Things could easily have been about his strange, liminal life (his somber face, his friends at the taxi station and hotel, where he resides and how he eats) and everything would have been perfectly perfect. But the director needed a story, he needed tension and intensities, he needed a love interest--and so there is a Turkish immigrant, who also works at the hotel, as a cleaner. She falls in love with the fallen doctor, and the fallen doctor falls in love with her. There's also mystery: Body parts, such as a whole human heart, surface here and there in the hotel's bathrooms. Who is doing this? What is going on in this evil hotel? The Nigerian doctor's potential is wasted on solving this very predictable and needless crime, and the entire film suffers.