Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a disgraced Nigerian doctor who has fled illegally to London, where he works as the night manager at a hotel, makes a grisly discovery: a human heart in a hotel toilet. Sensing that something's amiss, he starts probing – only to find out that the hotel he works for is a front for a black market for human kidneys.
Miramax is marketing Dirty Pretty Things as an Audrey Tautou vehicle, even stooping so low as to Photoshop her head onto the back of a naked girl in newspaper ads. But Tautou is really a supporting character. Although she is fine as a nervous Turkish Muslim, the movie belongs to Ejiofor, a British actor with a strong leading man presence.
Dirty Pretty Things is an absorbing if low-key suspenser that showcases London as the teeming mass of immigration it really is. There's no Hugh Grant here: the only white people in sight are struggling immigrants as well. You won't find any chase scenes or shootouts in this thriller either, but it's still lean and taut, and I appreciated the film for its subtleties, as well as for drawing attention to England's real working class. That Dirty Pretty Things dares to take society's untouchables and hold them up to us as noble, loving, vital individuals is the film's great triumph.
Only afterwards did I realize that there's a huge plot hole in the script: A human heart is found in a toilet. Yet there's no investigation into how it got there, what happened to its owner, or why the prostitute (Sophie Okonedo) who eventually comes to Okwe's aid didn't notice that it was clogging up the toilet of her own room. It's a classic MacGuffin – the thing that sets the story into motion even if it's ultimately unimportant – but still. It would have made more sense for there to have been a chopped-up kidney in the loo – the results of a botched surgery. But a perfectly severed human heart? That brings up more disturbing questions than either Okwe's colleagues or screenwriter Steve Knight care to address.