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Dirty Pretty Things
Reviewed by Dennis Morton


In the opening scene of Stephen Frears’ new movie, "Dirty Pretty Things", a cabbie is working the crowd at a London terminal. After a few errant pitches he scores with a pair of professionally dressed men who seem to have missed a connection. The cabbie, whose name is Okwe, says to the men: I am here to rescue those who have been let down by the system.
As the film unfolds, we’ll discover that Okwe’s banter is both prophetic and ironic.

Here’s a content warning for those who occupy the right wing of the political spectrum. Check your ulcers at the box office. This film contains the looming specter of miscegenation and dares to suggest that illegal immigrants have hearts and souls as well as brains, "Dirty Pretty Things" is part love story, part thriller and 100% fascinating. With elements of "The Fugitive" and a dash of urban legend, Stephen Frears and his magnificent international cast have created a film that is simultaneously fast paced and contemplative.

Much of the movie takes place in the modest Baltic Hotel, where the concept of room service is pushed to the limit. The Baltic Hotel may be a bit short on traditional amenities, but shy of a good late night meal, if your wallet is flush and your ethics on vacation, you can find just about anything your heart desires. And speaking of heart, and speaking of flush, occupants would be well advised to avoid the plumbing, especially in room 510. Deeds of a nature I dare not discuss transpire with regularity therein. Said occurrences are presided over by a night manager aptly named Sneaky, a fellow who rules his mini-nation of illegal immigrants by threat of disclosure.

One of the themes in this film reminds me of the closing lines of a poem written by Philip Nikolayev, himself an immigrant. His poem "Typing Yoga" ends like this:
Amid overpopulations, where labor is so poignantly cheap, you survive only by
perfecting your skills.

"Pretty Dirty Things" is populated by characters who have to work overtime to make ends meet. Haunted by fear of the immigration authorities and driven by the sheer will to survive, their behaviors are pushed to extremes.

But Frears’ film is not grim. Screenwriter Stephen Knight leavens the script with dark humor, often delivered by a morgue attendant drolly played by Benedict Wong. And the afore mentioned Sneaky, played by Sergi Lopez, the eponymous Harry in "With A Friend Like Harry" is comically, diabolically brilliant. The entire cast is top rate. And Frears enjoys the services of a great cinematographer, Chris Menges. Menges did the camera work on one of my favorite films of the last three years, Sean Penn’s, "The Pledge".

I would mispronounce the lead’s name, so I leave that for you to struggle with. I will say that his performance outshines many an Oscar nominee. He can wordlessly convey a depth of emotion rarely seen in Hollywood.

To sum it up, " Dirty Pretty Things" is the best film now playing in the area, and one of the best films so far this year. Thou shalt not miss it.

For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.