Dirty Pretty Things was at once a pleasant surprise and a slight disappointment. It stands head and shoulders above the wreckage of many Britflicks of its day, but it still never quite reaches the heights. Part of the problem is that the background is the story, leaving us with an at times slight narrative and a very predictable final twist that seems very much like one of Roald Dahl's Tales of the Very Much as We Expected (the moment Chiwetel Ejiofor stops Sergi Lopez's hands from shaking you know exactly what's coming).
That said, it's still a worthwhile trip. Unlike most British films, and London ones in particular, it actually uses the city as a character - in this case the hidden city. We see virtually no ordinary British citizens. Instead the film is inhabited by the illegal immigrants who do the dirty jobs that no-one else wants, the lead character a Nigerian doctor who works double-shifts as taxi driver and hotel porter and rents a couch in Turkish maid Audrey Tatou's couch on a timeshare basis. This milieu is superbly captured, and you get a sense of a world not so much hidden as ignored. Frears direction too is back to the power and drive of his early work after his recent flabby American entries, although he still can't resist caricaturing the Immigration officials - rather than the bored, disinterested and impersonal reality he's opted for cheap comic book villains that diminishes every scene they appear in. Similarly, he doesn't always keep a tight enough rein on some of the supporting performances, Sophie Okenedo in particular: she can be a much better actress, but here she's allowed to veer too much to stereotype and has a couple of awkward moments. Lopez too falls back on some of his overfamiliar mannerisms, although Ejiofor is quite superb in the lead, and his easygoing scenes with Benedict Wong's mortuary waste disposal technician are minor highlights.
Nonetheless, with most British cinema so awful these days, this is definitely worth catching: a very good film even if it could have been even better.
The transfer on StudioCanal's region B-locked Blu-ray is fine though clearly taken from the same master used for the DVD but the extras are negligible - a commentary with lots of dead air from Stephen Frears and a trailer - so negligible, in fact, they're not even listed on the packaging. (The US Blu-ray also includes a brief behind the scenes featurette but reportedly has an underwhelming transfer).