Spike Lee’s Essential Films (SLEF) — Episode 14: Dirty Pretty Things (2002)

Inspired by my friend Krishan’s 2016 goal to watch 100 films from 100 different countries, my dad and I have tasked ourselves with the similar project to watch all the films on Spike Lee’s Essential Films list. Every week we’ll try and have a quick conversation about what we just watched.

The list was picked out from a shortlist of many, on the basis that there are about 50 films on it that we have both not seen, and that cross a wide variety of genres, years, countries etc. I am not particularly a fan of Spike Lee as a director, but I do believe he has good taste!

We are using the site www.icheckmovies.com to track our progress. It’s a site I highly endorse for all film nerds and list lovers — you can find my profile here.

This week we watched Dirty Pretty Things.

Brief Synopsis: An illegal Nigerian immigrant discovers the unpalatable side of London life.

David: A biopic about the life and times of Carl Barat, co-front man of indie rock bands The Libertines, and of course Dirty Pretty Things.

Mick: Not quite…

David: No, but our first British film from the SLEF thus far. A nice change to have something a little more close to home for us.

Mick: The problem with things that are meant to be close to home, is that you pick up on little details that aren’t quite right. Some of the characters, for example, are just a little bit too over-stereotyped, they’re not quite believable — for example, the immigration officers.

David: Agreed, and I think the same thing applies to the romanticism, the personification of London. The idea of there being a “London way” or a “London life” seems a bit OTT to me, it’s a little cringey.

Mick: Another example — at one point a character said that “the police don’t go into Chinatown”. I’ve lived in London for 40 years and I don’t think Chinatown is some sort of ghetto where the police don’t go. I mean it’s right by Leicester Square, it’s tourist central.

David: Forget it Mick, it’s Chinatown.

Mick: Let’s talk about the plot. I quite liked the storyline and the way it developed, but there were a few odd things going on for me, that didn’t quite ring true. First of all, why would they flush a heart down the toilet? Where was the rest of the body? And, why was Okwe trying to unblock the toilet?! The reason it was overflowing was that too much water was flowing into it, not that it was blocked. You need to stop the water coming into the toilet, not unblock the drain!

David: Well if those are your issues with it…

Mick: It’s the details that count! And I have another issue. Why does the night manager have to hide in the shower when the occupants re-enter their room? He’s the night porter! He’s just checking a problem in the room, he’s allowed to be there!

David: Well, I don’t think this is like any hotel you or I have been to. And of course this was like his second day working at the hotel, he knew he was snooping around and had to react instinctively. But I can’t help but feel that we’re dwelling on unnecesary details here. I don’t take issue with either of those “issues”, so let’s move on please…

Mick: Ok, well one of the things I liked about the movie, there was an overall good plot. There was a beginning, lots of things happened, and there was a subsequent conclusion. This is some progress compared with some of the films on the SLEF list we’ve seen recently.

David: Yeah I thought it was a very well balanced film, with a good blend of tension and drama to keep us hooked throughout, and a very nice twist at the end, even if you did call it 5 minutes early.

David: I thought the two leads were pretty good. Audrey Tautou is quite believable as a Turkish girl, whilst Chiwetel Ejiofor is made for the lead role. He has such kind eyes, every character he seems to play is some ultra-compassionate Samaritan.

Mick: I agree with you about Chiwetel, although there were a few conflicts in his character. He seemed to be the ultimate nice guy, but was prepared to steal drugs from a hospital.

David: But I think that just goes to exemplify his compassion. He was a Robin Hood character, willing to go to such tremendous risks to help others, even those he did not even know.

Mick: With Audrey, I wasn’t convinced she was Turkish, but I’m not sure that matters really. The point is, she’s not from the European Union, she’s an illegal immigrant, and that much was clear.

David: Ok, once again, I’d like to ask you: what was the best line in the film?

Mick: “We are the people you don’t see, we are the ones who drive your cabs, who clean your rooms and suck your cocks”

David: What was interesting about that was that it started out so cheesy. It seemed like Chiwetel was about to do an Oscar-bait dramatic reading, with hushed heroic music and a slow camera zoom. I’m so glad they undermined that by adding “we suck your cocks” on the end there.

Mick: I was a little annoyed that Senay wanted to go to New York. I mean, come on, show some respect to the greatest city on earth. I get that the point was probably that it’s actually not going to be any better in New York, but I still felt affronted.

David: Police riding white horses, lights in the trees, give me a break… But the whole immigration issue here is certainly not to be glossed over. The issues highlighted in the film are a reality for thousands of people still today. For example, the policy whereby asylum seekers are not allowed to work. They then get paid less benefits than UK citizens and become demonized by (some) natives who see them as a drain on public funds, even though they have been barred from working. It’s hardly a surprise that many refugees (and employers even) turn to illegal employment.

Mick: Alright, to conclude, overall I enjoyed watching the movie. I thought it had a decent storyline, some decent characters and a strong ending. A few little things annoyed me, and it did feel a little bit like a film trying to be a British film. Just a little bit clichéd, but I’m happy to give it a score of 7.5/10.

David: I liked the film a lot. I think there’s much merit in the subject matter, it’s not something that gets feature billing in films very often, especially not in Hollywood. It did feel a tad cliché at times, but I think rather this was because the filmmakers were looking to add something akin to moments of comic relief — that’s the only explanation to me for the bizarre characters of the immigration inspectors. I give it 8.5/10.

Join us next week when we watch Rome, Open City.

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