So, in my abortive attempt to catch the RotK trailer Friday night — Sony Lincoln Square wisely put Secondhand Lions in the basement theater to stop people like me from sneaking in for the previews…well played, y’all — I ended up seeing Stephen Frears’s Dirty Pretty Things, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Audrey Tautou. Worth seeing (although I preferred Lost in Translation), DPT is a tale of immigrant woe that starts very strong and gets weaker as it goes along. Holding down a number of dead-end jobs and chewing qat to stay awake at all hours of the day, a Nigerian-born doctor in London (Ejiofor, in a captivating, star-making performance) finds a hotel toilet clogged by a human heart. While this grisly discovery is never satisfactorily explained, it nevertheless propels him into an underworld organ-selling network that thrives on London’s most desperate new arrivals.
Ejiofor is great throughout the film, and DPT strikingly portrays how his character Okwe can get pretty much anywhere just by acting like the help. That being said, I thought the narrative lost its considerable momentum when the denouement becomes obvious, and when Frears made the implicit “invisible immigrant” theme too explicit. (He gives Ejiofor some pithy bon mots near the end about the plight of the unseen, just in case you’ve somehow missed the point thus far.) Plus, once you get past Okwe and arguably Tautou’s Senay, you basically end up with a lot of stereotyped characters straight out of Central Casting — the drunk and fun-loving Russian, the hooker with the heart of gold, the Asian morgue-worker who plays chess and ruminates on the Afterlife, the two INS guys who inexplicably take an interest in Tautou (and equally inexplicably follow her from job to job – How exactly did they find her at the sweatshop, and why did they care so much? Just a sentence or two of explanation would’ve satisfied me.) Still, while the film may never deliver on its early promise, it is enjoyable and thought-provoking throughout, and Ejiofor is very, very good – I hope to see more from him in the future.