Newsnight Review discussed Stephen Frears's movie Dirty Pretty Things.
(Edited highlights of the panel's review)
Ian Rankin, a human heart in a U-bend in a
hotel. A pretty stunning premise for a plot.
Does it then live up to it?
It's not a new plot device. Crime writers
have been using this kind of thing for
decades, this urban myth about people
waking up in hotel baths having been
drugged. The bath is full of ice, and why?,
because one of your kidneys is missing. I
wasn't surprised to see it, but it lifted it
above what the film might have been. We
have seen films and stories about illegal
asylum-seekers in Britain. Usually Jeremy
Irons is playing a Polish immigrant or
whatever, and it's dour. This is a film with
a lot of 'heart', ahem, I thank you. I think it
did make an interesting companion piece.
The last film I saw was 'The Quiet
American'. It seems very Graeme
Greeneish. A character says, "The most
dangerous thing in the world is a virtuous
man". I thought if Greene didn't write that,
he should have. He starts with a moral
dilemma; that he can't go to the police
because he is an illegal immigrant, and
then compromise follows. It's very grim.
If we are not in a hospital laundrette,
we are in the back of a minicab and men
are being checked to see if they have VD,
or we are in a mortuary or sweat shop.
Places you never see. You get the idea
these are invisible people walking amongst
us all the time but we never see them.
This film in a way
transforms the way you look at the world.
Last night, coming out of the screening, I
did have a little pause and look at the
security guard at Film Four and just kind
of imagined his life. It does change it. The
recreation of the world, the glimpse into
this society, is so fascinating and absorbing
that you almost regret it has a plot at all. It
has a very ingenious, elaborate, absorbing
thriller plot, but that's not the thing you
take away from it. It's just this sense of
other people's lives. I was very drawn by it.
The tone also surprised me. It's a very
political subject, asylum-seekers, certainly
if this is what's happening to them, but it's
not made as a political or angry film. It's
this rather light film, in many ways.
It's neither the political element nor the
thriller element that makes it so good. This
is real 'Dante's Inferno'. You go down
and down into the circles of hell and each
is worse than the one before, and there is
no escape or redemption, except the
goodness that you can find in your own
heart, which is why it's such a moral,
I think the casting is very good. The
sleazy, behind the scenes members of staff.
The tart with the heart is maybe a cliché,
but some of the people who work in the
hotel, you get the sense of an oiliness to
them. You come away wanting to wash
your hands when you leave the cinema. I
think the acting is superb.