Review: Stephen Frears' Dirty Pretty Things Debuts on Blu-ray

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The title Dirty Pretty Things is so enigmatic, even the film’s director Stephen Frears admits on the audio commentary to not knowing what it means. It’s an oddly fitting title for an unusual film, even if it doesn’t evoke anything specific. The story centers on two immigrants—a Nigerian man and a Turkish woman—living in London and working at the same hotel. The woman, Senay (Audrey Tautou), is a maid who is under investigation by the immigration authorities.  The man, Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor), drives a cab when not attending the hotel’s front desk. He was a doctor in his native country, now reduced to checking other cab drivers for STDs in a dingy backroom.

Dirty Pretty Things blu-ray cover (196x250).jpgThe directorial skill that earned Frears an Academy Award nomination for The Grifters in 1990 is on full display in this 2002 thriller. Steven Knight earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay for his efforts here. It’s not hard to see why. To divulge too much of this story would be to rob it of its power. Suffice it to say, Okwe makes a shockingly disturbing discovery while unclogging a toilet in one of the hotel’s rooms: a human heart. His medical background, coupled with a strong ethical sense, compels him to investigate further—even at his own obvious peril, as he has no legal status in England.

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Audrey Tautou are both captivating in their roles. Okwe is a highly intelligent and principled individual, with a very difficult past, and Ejiofor conveys these aspects with a deeply sympathetic performance. Tautou displays a similar depth of feeling in her portrayal of Senay, who is romantically involved with Okwe. Her desperation is palpable, especially as we see Senay endure sexual assaults by her manager at work. She and Okwe find themselves in way over their heads as the story progresses, and the brilliant performances of Tautou and Ejiofor help maintain a realistic tone.

Dirty Pretty Things is presented on Blu-ray in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p transfer is clean, save for a few white specks here and there that are infrequent enough to barely warrant a mention. Fine detail is quite impressive during daylight or otherwise brightly lighted scenes. If there is a problem, it’s that black crush is a fairly significant issue given that much of the film has a dark, moody look. Dark wardrobe and backgrounds tend to lack texture. Overall though, it’s a fine presentation for a budget-priced catalog title.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is absolutely acceptable without being noteworthy. Most importantly, dialogue is clear as a bell, naturally balanced with light ambiance. There’s not much surround activity to speak of and the LFE channel is a bit light as well, but neither of these are problems. It’s just that Dirty Pretty Things features an intentionally sparse soundscape. The icy, minimalist score by Nathan Larson—after dialogue, the most film’s most essential audio element—also sounds very strong and well-balanced, primarily restricted to the front channels. Dirty Pretty Things Senay (380x253).jpg

Carried over from the previously available DVD edition, the special features include a dry, but thoughtful, commentary by director Stephen Frears. He speaks very casually, and silent gaps become more frequent as the movie progresses, but fans of the film will be glad to have it. A seven-minute “Behind the Scenes” featurette has been ported over as well. There’s not much to it as it is a typical promotional piece.

Dirty Pretty Things is a not a political film, despite its theme of illegal immigration. The film is essentially a character piece about a complicated relationship between two people in dire circumstances. Once we see Okwe pull the water-logged heart from that toilet, the suspense kicks in and doesn’t let up until the conclusion.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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