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Dirty Pretty Things (2003)
Rated R

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofo, Audrey Tautou, and Sergi Lopez

Rating:
****1/2
out of
*****

Have you heard the name Chiwetel Ejiofor before? Well, if there's any justice in the world, you'll hear it again at the Academy Awards ceremony in March, 2004. If you want to see the best male acting performance of the year (so far), you'll find it in Stephen Frears' Dirty Pretty Things.

Ejiofor stars as Okwe, an illegal Nigerian immigrant working in London as the night porter in a posh hotel. During the day, he drives a cab. He rents a space on a couch from a Turkish woman named Senay (Audrey Tautou), who also works at the hotel as a maid and is also an illegal immigrant. Okwe, Senay and the other illegals struggle to remain as anonymous as possible while trying to carve out a living for themselves.

One night, Okwe makes a horrifying discovery in the hotel: A human heart is clogging a toilet. He tries to get his manager, nicknamed Sneaky (Sergi Lopez), to call the police. Sneaky, however, reminds Okwe that being an illegal doesn't give him much credibility when reporting crimes. So, Okwe tries to find out what would possibly cause someone to flush a perfectly healthy human heart down the toilet. What he finds puts himself and Senay in terrible danger.

Director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Steven Knight have constructed a scenario that is horrifying from the get-go and gets worse as time passes. The conditions real-life illegal immigrants are forced to live and work under are unpleasant as it is, but the situations that the characters in the film find themselves placed in are doubly bad. Frears' direction ratchets up the tension and despair while making the audience truly care about the characters' well-being. Somehow, the film even manages to be funny in a completely intentional way.

Ejiofor's performance as the well-mannered and caring Okwe is absolutely perfect. Audrey Tautou, who is probably best-known for her role as Amelie in the film of the same name, is good, but not great in her first English-speaking role. Sergi Lopez, as Sneaky, is slimy and darkly humorous as the manipulative hotel manager. Also good are Sophie Okonedo as Juliette, a prostitute, and Benedict Wong as Guo Yi, a mortician who helps Okwe.

Dirty Pretty Things is a film that's hard to forget with characters that are equally memorable. Miss this at your peril.

Trivia: Writer Steven Knight is one of the people responsible for the UK version of the game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?". (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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