Sunday, September 11, 2016

Steven Knight's London Underground Trilogy

Illegal immigration, refugees, competitive workforce and free-market capitalism's most horrific extremes - man has there ever been a more timely time for Stephen Frears' Dirty Pretty Things?

I first saw this film in 2002 when star Audrey Tautou was hot from Jeane-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie (a far more successful feature outing as a singular director after his solo-debut Alien: Resurrection followed a nearly two decade-long collaborative career with Marc Caro). I was already a big fan of director, Frears, whose adaptation (along with screenwriter Donald Westlake) of Jim Thompson's The Grifters remains one of my absolute favorites and whose work on The Hit and Hi-Lo Country proved The Grifters wasn't a one-off, lightning strike of flare for crime fare.

Tautou was the face of the poster, but the film was stolen by an actor with an unfamiliar face and impossible to guess at name, Chiwetel Ejiofor, who anchors the picture even when he isn't center frame, his moral gravity and personal guilt silently expressed loud and clear.

Still, for all the talent I'm fond of and drawn to in this flick it's screenwriter Steven Knight whose movie I immediately identify it as. Though urban, British underworlds are something he continues to explore (Peaky Blinders is one of my favorite things on TV) Dirty Pretty Things is the opening chapter of a thematic trilogy of his - followed by David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises and his own feature directing debut, Redemption (aka Hummingbird), that explores the lives of desperate people doing terrible things to survive in the shadows of prosperity.

Near the end of the film Ejiofor's character refers to the protagonists of the picture in a way that succinctly expresses the marginalized peoples of this trilogy "We are the people you do not see. We are the ones who drive your cabs. We clean your rooms. And suck your cocks." You can keep your hero cops, crusading politicians, expert killers and ruthless crime lords, it is exactly these types of characters that most interest me in crime-themed fare.

This week I'm showing Dirty Pretty Things (Wednesday at the Maplewood Library at 7pm) as part of the Hardboiled Wonderland Film Series. One of my chief goals in putting the series together was to highlight some overlooked titles, and this is one I hope gets some more attention. It's elegant and sinister, humane and terrifyingly plausible in its utter routine-ness. So if you've been attending or playing along with the series at home, this is one to tune in for.

Dirty Pretty Things serves as a thesis statement for the trilogy. After you've watched it plug in Eastern Promises

and follow them both with Redemption (err, Hummingbird). Then get back to me and let me know your thoughts on the trilogy.

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