Dirty Pretty Things (2002) – Ace Mini-Review

Dirty Pretty Things
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tautou, Sergi López
Written by: Steven Knight
Directed by: Stephen Frears
U.K., 2002

How good is this movie?

Dirty Pretty Things is a hard movie to categorise: a thriller with few action sequences; a horror movie without any supernatural elements; a mystery with an unlikely investigator; a relationship drama where the characters have little time for relationships.  Its heroes are the kinds of people movies don’t usually focus on: illegal immigrants, sweat shop employees, sex workers.  It is by turns dark, funny, and poignant.  And, ultimately, it finds hope, if only in the basic decency of the characters and the ways they help each other.

How ace is this movie?

The movie is at once highly sexual and almost asexual.  The main characters’ sex lives are a matter of interest and speculation to the people around them, yet they themselves express little sexual desire.  A running theme of the movie is the sex work that the female characters, under varying degrees of compulsion, must do to survive.  Juliette accepts the work with resigned good-humour, while Shanay is more resistant.  She starts out the movie a self-declared virgin, but is repeatedly pressured to perform sexual favours for her employers.  This seamy world stands in contrast to the chaste friendship shared by the two leads.  Okwe and Shenay live together in a domestic partnership of convenience where they share meals and other domestic tasks and are even friendly with each other, but steer clear of romantic or sexual entanglement.  However, this is less about a lack of interest than a lack of agency.  For them, sex has been turned into a commodity that they are exploited for, rather than something they might choose for its own sake, and the art of surviving leaves them with little scope for pursuing a relationship.

4 Stars; 3 Aces

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