DIRECTED BY Stephen Frears
STARRING Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tautou, Sergi López
Opens December 13, Cert 15, 92 mins
The versatility of Frears (how can the same man have made Sammy And Rosie Get Laid, Dangerous Liaisons and High Fidelity?) prevents his gaining a glamorous reputation as an auteur: when it comes to myth-making, more is less. Here he's exposing the underbelly of London again, though his beautiful laundrette is replaced by a seedy hotel wherein illegal immigrants are exploited for even more illegal gain.
Nigerian Okwe (the quietly strong Ejiofor) works round the clock to keep the wolfand immigration authorities-from the door. Cab driver by day, hotel receptionist by night, he chews herbal leaves to stay awake. He befriends Turkish asylum seeker Senay (Tautou), who's equally fearful of exposure. When Okwe discovers that what's blocking a toilet in one of the hotel rooms is a human heart, he's told to keep silent by the sinister manager Sneaky (López). But Okwe's a trained doctor and can't let it lie. Sneaky's using the hotel as a front for a shockingly amoral operation, which, unless Okwe acts, is to endanger Senay, with whom he shares an understated romantic bond.
Beginning as an empathic social document of the multicultural metropolis and its tawdry pain, the film develops into a noir-ish thriller to which the three leads bring credible vigour. It's gritty in the way Pawlikowski's Last Resort was, eschewing Britflick underworld glamour to portray a London unfamiliar to movies but eerily familiar to residents. "This is a weird city," proclaim its downtrodden, defiant protagonists. "We are the people you do not see."
It's a story which could've been worthy but dull. However, Ejiofor oozes soulful presence and Tautou, though miscast, rallies to effect a moving climax. You could also be disturbed by the fact that the writer, Steven Knight, scripts Jasper Carrott sitcoms and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? But Frears'career has repeatedly proven you can't judge people on surfaces. That's the theme of this clever, different film and its hard-done-by heroes.
Rating: 4 / 10