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Under London

Culture

Issue: "Ten Commandments showdown," Aug. 30, 2003

Dirty Pretty Things (rated R for sexual content, disturbing images, and bad language) is a gritty thriller set among struggling immigrants in London. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Okwe, a Nigerian illegal holding down two demanding jobs-he's a cabbie during the day and a hotel desk clerk at night.

When Okwe finds time for sleep, it's on a couch in a small, dingy flat rented by Senay (Amelie's Audrey Tautou), a Turkish immigrant working illegally at the same hotel. There are seeds of a friendship-and perhaps more-between the two, but they work opposite shifts, so their paths cross only briefly each day. This routine is interrupted by an alarming, exceedingly unpleasant discovery in the hotel's plumbing. Okwe soon learns that a black-market industry hides beneath the surface of the well-appointed London hotel.

The movie realistically, sometimes graphically, portrays immigrant life. Okwe and Senay's illegal status makes them easy prey, but it's interesting to note that their abusers are primarily other immigrants who have reached some position of authority. Dirty Pretty Things exists in a London unseen by most, with the film avoiding shots of Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, or anything else that might show up on a postcard.

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Dirty Pretty Things deserves a strong R. The more brutal images in the film, although almost never explicit, are still disturbing. Even what is implied is often hard to take, particularly as Senay faces sexual abuse by several employers. But the best scenes in the film show Okwe, by contrast, exhibiting a quiet resolve, intelligence, and compassion that guide him through this grimy underworld.

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