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Picks and Pans Review: Dirty Pretty Things

updated 07/28/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/28/2003 01:00AM

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tautou
Critic's Choice

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In the wee hours, a night clerk at a London hotel discovers a human heart clogging a toilet in a room. In this fascinating, atmospheric whodunit directed by Stephen Frears (High Fidelity), the clerk (Ejiofor), at great risk, investigates just how the organ ended up there.

Dirty Pretty Things is a suspense thriller with—dare we say it?—heart. The clerk, who had been a doctor back in Nigeria, is now an illegal immigrant, and so are the Turkish maid (Tautou) he befriends and nearly everyone else in his hardscrabble world. These recent arrivals toil at low-wage jobs and live with the constant threat of arrest, making them vulnerable to economic exploitation and worse. It's the worse that makes Things tick.

The film goes astray late in the game, but there's no faulting British stage actor Ejiofor's moving, exquisitely nuanced performance. Tautou (Amélie) is less effective, though affecting. (R)

BOTTOM LINE: A thriller that thrills

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