Stephen Frears has had a very successful career, dabbling in all corners of fictional cinema with cult hits such as High Fidelity, major main stream period success in The Queen, and even noir revival with The Grifters, but Frears also has his share of misses as he recently dropped an indie flop with this year’s Sundance bomb, Lay The Favorite. With his enigmatic 2002 thriller, Dirty Pretty Things, he traversed the underground world of exploited illegal immigrants and British organ trafficking by enlisting the help of stage actor Chiwetel Ejiofor and newly propelled star Audrey Tautou. Initially lauded upon its release for Steven Knight’s nuanced script and Frears’s balanced blend of romantic drama and social commentary, the film’s only real flaw was miscasting the lovely Tautou as a struggling immigrant vexed by desperation. She’s just too damn pretty to be wholly believable.
Utilized perfectly however is the proven stage performer Ejiofor as Okwe, a Nigerian illegal, who was forced to abandon his previous life as a New York trained doctor when he was accused of a horrific act of violence. To make ends meet, he drives a taxi by day, sits a hotel desk by night, and treats fellow immigrants in need on the side. For the time being he rooms with a co-worker, and Turkish illegal, Senay (Tautou), that is, until immigration enforcement catches on to them. While working the desk one night, Okwe receives a call from a late night regular (Sophie Okonedo) about a clogged toilet, and upon investigation, makes a disturbing discovery in a freshly disposed human heart. From here, Okwe and Senay’s stories intermingle around outfoxing the feds, the contemplation of fleeing Britain for potentially greener pastures, and the temptation to immerse themselves into the sketchy human organ business in exchange for passports and freedom.
Placing Ejiofor in the lead role was a brilliant casting decision. Not only does the role fit him like a glove, but he fills it out with balanced anxious confidence as a skilled physician and a man who’s livelihood is in constant danger. Tautou, in her first English language role, acts as a counterpoint, a naïve woman giving in to her bitter reality and the temptations of an easy way out. Between these two there is real sexual tension that echoes throughout the film, which makes the events that follow in the wake of the shocking climax surprising all the more. It is here that Frears did an excellent job of subtly creating romance in the midst of social drama, while not taking away from the austere exploration. Solid performances and sure directing aside, it is mostly to the credit of Knight’s intelligently woven script that the film is as brilliant as it is.
Echo Bridge is not really known for lavish home releases, but this one is actually pretty decent. The film is presented with minimal image distortion in the form of an occasional mild flicker. The often saturated color in dimly lit settings looks quite natural, and detail, while not top notch, is crisp and has relative depth. For audio, we are presented a now standard DTS-HD 5.1 master track that has plenty of texture in the surrounds in addition to the clear dialog that streams through the center channel. The disc itself is packaged in a standard Blu-ray case with a somewhat pitiful cover image that boasts with a bargain bin sort of label, “Available for the first time on Blu-ray!”
Audio Commentary with Director Stephen Frears
One man commentary tracks rarely make it the length of the film without a few lulls, and this one is no different. Frears discusses finding scene locales, working with actors of non-English native tongue, his admiration of Audrey, and a variety of production details. Unfortunately, he does run out of things to say quite frequently, but only for brief periods of time.
Behind The Scenes Featurette
Running only 6 minutes, this piece is a typical promo EPK spot that features cast and crew as they give a rough description of the story while pairing them with shots from the film. Sadly, it’s presented in letterboxed SD.
A suspenseful, often funny, completely disturbing thriller, Dirty Pretty Things is a gripping film right out of the gate. There are brief moments that require the necessary suspension of disbelief, but as we are carefully doled out the backgrounds of Okwe and Senay, you can’t help but get caught up in this narrative of hotel organ sales, and the immigrant subterranean where many are forced to live in fear for a chance at a better life. Despite overwhelming positive press and the Tautou plastered ads, the film did mediocre business, but with this decent home release and a little help from you, could have a better live of its own.
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