Monday, 3 August 2020

Alternate Best Actor 2002: Chiwetel Ejiofor in Dirty Pretty Things

Chiwetel Ejiofor did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Okwe/Olatokumbo Fadipe in Dirty Pretty Things.

Dirty Pretty Things is an effective, more character piece than thriller, about illegal immigrants in London who get intertwined in a criminal black market based within a hotel.

So I return to Chiwetel Ejiofor in one of his first major film roles in what was part of his minor breakout, that he's slowly expanded, though never quite enough to really match what I think could be his potential. Ejiofor here plays the seemingly unassuming character in Okwe who we meet working as a cab driver in the day then a hotel concierge at night. Ejiofor's performance offers his typical charisma here as we see the man going about his day. This with a consistent natural African accent that helps us see his character as the immigrant, though obviously has long spent his time elsewhere causing it to be reduced. Ejofor gets along typically as he grants early on Okwe's this sort of quiet near stoicism. He doesn't simplify him but rather establishes him as a man who obviously wishes to fly under the radar. He still has a low key charm about him as he picks up passengers at an airport, but at the same time there's a weight within his work. This Ejiofor has a certain sense of trauma within the man, a dormant quality within Ejiofor's work that is a given. There isn't something he immediately states about his past, but rather he creates the sense that Okwe has gone through something within his past that bares on him now. This is effectively drawn though as an internalized quality within Ejiofor's performance. This as in the present Ejiofor shows us a man attempting to live through his existence without making a particular splash at first, an existence though that is one of a near constant motion.

Ejiofor then is a captivating lead to follow as Okwe goes through his rather difficult existence as he comes across the nastier side of things in each. Whether that seeing severely injured men at his cabby station or finding a human heart within a bathroom at his hotel. Ejiofor's performance captures a careful sort of contained empathy within the man. This as Okwe obviously wants to stay under the radar yet in these moments we can see his immediate horror or low key disbelief in moments. This finding the nature of the man and the odd symmetry we find him in. This as Ejiofor finds the right balance in his reactions in terms of creating are concern in part, but also a sense of distaste towards the guilty parties that seem to be associated with the horrible acts. We get a better relationship in his moments where we see Okwe interacting with his friend Guo Yi (Benedict Wong). He and Wong share a nice chemistry between them in that you get a good sense of camaraderie within sort of attempting to make the best of an area filled with hardships. The most essential relationship though is Turkish Muslim immigrant Senay (Audrey Tautou), with whom he partially shares a home, though in technically practical not sexual relationship sort of way. This is where I'd say Ejiofor's nuance is most pivotal. This as he creates the right manner in Okwe where he portrays his manner towards her most often in an almost paternal context. This in creating a sense of warmth more so than a winning charm, in accentuating the way Okwe is trying to support her just as she supports him with her home.

The more we find about Okwe the more is revealed about him, though Ejiofor very much accentuates a man who is who he is, even if he is more than he is. This as it becomes evident that he was an educated doctor in Africa now working the menial jobs due to some past circumstance. This as we see Okwe in action as a doctor helping an injured taxi cab man, Ejiofor is fantastic. This in such conviction and empathy in his eyes, a calm determination, but also a sense of frustration in seeing the sort of failure of the system around him within the suffering right in front of him. This as he learns that there is a black market organ scheme in the hotel he is working for, spearheaded by its sleazy manager Sneaky (Sergi Lopez). Ejiofor is fantastic in creating such an honest heroic quality within Okwe as he undergoes these revelations. Those revelations along with seeing Senay continued hardships that are slowly leading towards the desire to exploit her, particularly sexually. Ejiofor is great by making these moments of interacting with Sneaky and Senay separately so powerfully inform his characters actions. This in his interactions with Sneaky, and thinking about them later, there is that profound sense of both distaste and distress over this horrible behavior. With Senay, Ejiofor is wonderful in again projecting this pitch perfect chemistry with Tautou, who presents an overt infatuation, while Ejiofor is marvelous by slightly deflecting as pure love, but wholly non-sexual in that sense. Ejiofor instead so poignantly emphasizes in every moment he looks upon her the genuine concern just for a person he cares about.

Ejiofor makes it wholly convincing then as Okwe takes rather extreme action, though heroic action, by exploiting the devious Sneaky, by getting passports from him, before drugging him to use him for a kidney payoff rather than Senay as Sneaky intended. Ejiofor's terrific though by making the determination of Okwe in these scenes a given, and with that conviction in his eyes of a man simply committing a righteous act in the moment. After taking the successful gambit, that will allow him to return to Africa and let Senay go to the US, first Okwe reveals his past. This where he was forced to flee when his wife was purposefully murdered and he was forced to flee away from his daughter. Ejiofor is marvelous in the scene in so quietly yet still emotionally raw delivering of the recounting of the story. Ejiofor suggesting the lost of his wife but also that very real pain of being separated from his daughter. This is why he and Senay must part ways. Their two final parting just being excellent work from Ejiofor again. Here in portraying just a slight ease away from the purely paternal to grant a sense of perhaps the potential for more overt romance internalized with him, though still with this manner that keeps a distance while only expressing the strongest of affections for her. This though is a prelude to when just a moment later when Okwe finally calls his daughter again and calling home. Ejiofor is outstanding in this moment as that haunted quality in his work come to the forefront in this outpouring of pent up emotion and is absolutely heartbreaking. This in making one care wholly about this relationship in a moment that we only really heard about a few minutes before. This is a great performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor, as he not only leads the film effortlessly in just a low key charismatic turn, but also anchors it with such a palatable sense of humanity.

30 comments:

Luke Higham said...

Pleased that Ejiofor got his 2nd five.

Louis: Ratings and thoughts on the cast.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your thoughts on Bradley Cooper playing a supporting role in PTA's 1970s project.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

I'll get to the thoughts soon.

I literally only ever actively disliked one performance directed by PTA, typically loving to liking most, I mean the man made Eric Roberts work wonderfully after all, so since I actually typically do like Cooper, interested to see what he does with him.

Mitchell Murray said...

Well lets not forget the last time Cooper tackled the 70's era....Still, he's in far more capable hands this time around, so I hope he succeeds.

And in regards to this review, Ejiofor does seem to be that weird kind of actor who's at once prominent, but also under valued. You would think things would've changed following his oscar nomination, but what else can you do but wish him the best going forward.

Tim said...

even after being nominated for Best Lead Actor, he still ended up in a supporting role in Doctor Strange. Let's be honest, that is not fair to this man's talent.
I always saw him as capable of becoming a huge star, but as it seems most still cannot even properly pronounce his name, sadly


Anyway, another issue i hold deeply; I am currently watching Avatar which led me to ask about your thoughts on James Cameron as an Director? (not screenwriter, i believe that has been discussed to the bone already; just his directing chops). This might probably already have been asked before, but i just feel the need to ask, as i am what seems to be his only big Fan on here

Aidan Pittman said...

Louis: What is that one performance?

Luke Higham said...

Aidan: I'm fairly certain it's Julianne Moore in Magnolia.

Luke Higham said...

Tim: I don't think anyone hates Cameron's directorial skills (The sinking sequence in Titanic is still fairly impressive to this day) but he needed a more talented writer for his last two films.

Tim said...

Luke you see, that might be the problem in my thinking there, as you will not find me easily dismissing his writing for both Avatar and Titanic.

On Avatar, the two common complaints are the one-to-two-dimensional characters and the predictable plot.
While i can't pretend that the first didn't exist, i honestly never really cared about the latter. There have been other movies where i could predict what would happen right from the get-go that still entertained me as there have been movies that kept me guessing but i still don't enjoy. I personnally do not consider that to actually affect the entertainment value.
This is an undescribably subjectional thing, but i just find that movie incredibly immersive.And it has an pretty identifiable story with a decent basic conflict, which for me is more important then whether i have seen said story being told before.


Now on to Titanic.
The only complaint writing wise (other than the entire idea of telling a fictional story in the first place) is the dialogue.
Now i will admit not to actually have an ear for dialogue other than the Woody Allen/Alan BAll/Aaron Sorkin type. Or lines that are really really really really really really really really really really really bad. And honestly, i do not find any lines in there i would put on that level. The only moments i would consider off regarding the dialogue are just the way Blly Zane says them.
My favorites:
smbd: "There is no problem. Sir!" Zane: "Yes. There. Is. I have been robbed"
and "I said nott nau"
(Zane and Danny Nucci are actually the only things i actively dislike about the film).
Other than that, when it comes to structure, pacing, conflict or symbolism the screenplay is actually as good as it gets according to my worldview.

Tim said...

*at least the dialogue is the only complaint i have heard

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Tim: Dude, the dialogue in Titanic is terrible. If there was a drinking game made out of how many times Jack and Rose call each other out by name, all of us would be dead from liver cirrhosis. Also, from a direction standpoint, while there are a lot of things Cameron does well (the sinking sequence particularly), he didn't really try to maintain a consistent tone throughout the performances. For one, I've read in multiple places that he told DiCaprio to play Jack without any complexity whatsoever.

Michael Patison said...

I've always found Cameron's technical direction to be superb. His performance direction is more or less nonexistent from what I can tell. As for the Titanic writing, it is perhaps less noticeable than elsewhere, but Cameron is largely incapable of writing beyond the archetype. Zane, for instance, is (supposed to be) a maliciously pompous ass. Nothing more, nothing less.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Save Wong for the moment.

Tautou - 4(I'll say I wasn't sure of her performance at first, though I'll say by the end of the film it definitely worked for me. This in portraying the sort of almost disjointed quality of the woman who is kind of scared by being almost entirely alone in her place. She creates the right sense of anxiety within her performance and with that a distance as though she is trying not to get anyone's attention too much. She's good though again in creating that precise chemistry with Ejiofor that she gradually reveals more as the film goes on as well, though that in more overtly romantic strokes.)

Lopez - 3(Appropriately sleazy I suppose, though I didn't feel he did much beyond that.)

Okonedo - 3.5(I wish she had gotten a bit more to do. This as she really brings as much as she can to do the part. This with the right combination of an overly earthy vivaciousness along with a more cutting edge about her. She's good to the point that I wish her character was a little less minor in the scheme of the film.)

Tim:

Well to give my thoughts, lets start with Avatar which is an outlier for me, as I don't think it has any quality whatsoever. I don't care for the design behind the visual effects and find the cinematography actively ugly. That's not even getting into the story but I'll set that aside.

This is as typically Cameron is a technical master. Nearly all of his other films are groundbreaking in some way, well True Lies is also an outlier but just because it is silly actioneer among the rest of his work. Still even that film has that technical precision in it. This in pushing visual effects, sound design and camerawork to at time a limit. Save for the aforementioned, Cameron's action scenes are great, as is his ability to realize the technical elements that support a given film.

Okay though, tone, which is part his writing but also part his directing, is his biggest stumbling block. Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator all have a very consistent tone and Cameron realizes it well with each. Aliens and Terminator with a horror edge, and Abyss a mix of action and discovery. Both he finds a consistency again, and can hit well the alternating notes within each without losing the overall tone within his directing...True Lies also is a goofy action film throughout, but I don't think that matters as much...

Anyways, Terminator 2 is mostly consistent in tone, but he does indulge a bit with the cheese and just pushes harder than he needs to. It's fine to be lighter than the first, but he occasionally over does it a touch, for my tastes anyways. It isn't too jarring though, and I would say the qualities of his work there outweigh any minor reservations, as there are incredible individual scenes, and his general intense tone scenes, which is the majority of the film, is remarkable.

Titanic now is where we get into some problems again. The 90's scenes feel like a 90's commercial are out of wack in so many ways, and just exude the worst kind of dated qualities. This right down to the "comical" cut back to everyone "ooooh" face when Rose is describing her own sex scene to strangers for some reason. The past scenes are not bereft of this though, the Zane chase scenes is completely out of a different movie. I still think there is a fundamental mistake, such as insisting DiCaprio be as simple as possible as Jack, where he sought to make this standard old-Hollywood romantic melodrama. To which I'd say, what are these great old-Hollywood romantic melodramas with such simple lead characters? I ask honestly as I've often heard that as a defense of the tone overall and a defense of Zane as befitting to that approach. Again, I'll hear examples please?

So honestly for me Cameron, is a bit like Robert Zemeckis, in his greatness was definitely there, but has been lost at some point.

Calvin Law said...

FUCK YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

So happy with this review. More people need to see this film. Louis your thoughts on the screenplay? It’s one of my favourite ‘dark horse’ Oscar nominations ever.

Calvin Law said...

And even if Wong isn’t reviewed in the end I’m still very glad he’s being saved.

BRAZINTERMA said...

Hey folks!
Louis recently changed Daniel Day Lewis in GONY's rating. So say what would be your new ranking of the 5 nominees for best actor in 2002:

5º Caine
4º Cage
3º Nicholson
2º Brody
1º Day-Lewis

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Brazinterma: For Louis's line up, I think Day-Lewis will be second out of the nominees.

Louis Morgan said...

Calvin:

Definitely an inspired nod, and doing the lord's work in my book as it prevented Love Actually nomination.

The screenplay is among Steven Knight's best work, and when Knight works it does a few things typically. One is it crafts a world, here the world of illegal immigrants in London. This doing something in creating sort of the way of life, the dangers, the atmosphere which it vividly realizes, while never becoming preachy in crafting this. It creates vivid characters with clear understanding of motivations, but beyond that as well. This with though the important interactions between the characters where Knight wisely doesn't make them solely downtrodden. Again I can reinforce this enough, but unless it is very rare circumstances aggressively downtrodden examination usually can be quite patronizing. Knight avoids this wholly here in granting those moments optimism, even before the ending, even within the hardship. Scenes like just the dinner between Senay and Okwe, or the friendly conversations between Okwe and Guo. Although I didn't quite love Frears's aesthetic choices here, Knight's work I found remarkable that works as the slowly unraveling of this crime, but more so the examination of these people in unique circumstances.

Anonymous said...

Louis who would you say are the 10 worst best director nominees of all time?

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

1. Adam McKay - Vice
2. Adam McKay - The Big Short
3. Vincent Minnelli - Gigi
4. Irving Cummings - In Old Arizona
5. Joshua Logan - Sayonara
6. David O. Russell - American Hustle
7. Wesley Ruggles - Cimarron
8. Cecil B. DeMille - The Greatest Show on Earth
9. Herbert Ross - The Turning Point
10. Joshua Logan - Picnic

Emi Grant said...

Louis: Talking about Steven Knight, have you ever given your thoughts on Locke's screenplay before?

Mitchell Murray said...

I'm a bit late to the discussion, but I just wanted to chime in on James Cameron as a director:

For myself, Cameron has always been an assured visual filmmaker, and has been especially impressive when it comes to his early action features. For the most part, I think Cameron knows how to helm a fast paced sequence, and how to make it properly thrilling via suspenseful editing, thunderous music or highly focused camera work. Where Cameron's directing style falters, though, is pretty where his films falter as well, which is when the ambition and scale of his stories overrides the emotional/narrative core. You see, I enjoy a great deal of Cameron's filmography pre-"Titanic", and there are a few reasons for that. The most obvious is that they were primarily action films which seems to be Cameron's bread and butter, but more importantly, they also had a decent amount of character scenes and coherence to go along with that. Adding to this further was an array of talented performers, who were provided the right breathing room by Cameron, and seemingly had the right path to follow in their performances to make them stand out.

If I was to compare Cameron's career trajectory to any modern directors, I would say he's somewhat similar to Ang Lee. In terms of their recent work, they're both technically innovative to a fault, and that became far more of a burden since it detracted from the vision shown in their earlier films. Honestly, it might be worth it to just thrown in the towel now and say Cameron's best work is behind him, if the next 4 "Avatar" sequels are anything like the first. For me, however, he will still always have "Aliens", the first two "Terminators" and "True Lies" to fall back upon.

Michael Patison said...

I think the Ang Lee comparison is very much off. Lee has been a victim of his own success and has had a bad stretch of project quality. Billy Lynn was at best mediocre and had none of the innovation you're alleging. Gemini Man, no matter what the technical aspects were, was never going to amount to anything remotely watchable. In contrast, Life of Pi managed to balance a rather odd mixture while still being extraordinarily innovative technically. The comparison is also flawed because Lee's career has been built on versatility. Romantic comedy, British period drama, dysfunctional family drama, wuxia, romantic Western, erotic spy period, fantastical adventure.

Mitchell Murray said...

Michael: Your right...they really aren't that similar overall. Though admittedly, I was quite tired when I wrote that...

Mitchell Murray said...

Also, if Lee was very much a victim of his own success, Cameron was frankly a victim of his own ego. The overwhelming success of "Titanic" kind of went to his head, I think.

Anonymous said...

Brazinterma:
1. Brody
2. Day-Lewis
3. Nicholson
4. Cage
5. Caine

Louis Morgan said...

Emi:

No, and obviously it is a non-traditional screenplay in terms of the challenge. This in that there are not different setting that need to be managed, character movement or even acts in the traditional sense. It engages instead in its own challenge in attempting to telling a compelling narrative of just one man taking calls in a car. And though Tom Hardy is also absolutely essential in that, Knight delivers on the challenge. This in he manages to reveal who Locke is through each call, he manages to create the sense of each relationship with each caller, or even his "Dad", while also successfully creating the sense of progression or degradation within each relationship within the conversation. Exceptional minimalistic work by Knight, where it is entirely about the dialogue and he succeeds within that.

Mitchell:

There are so many stories on Cameron shows he had a massive ego throughout his career, and to be fair every one his gambles has worked out for him. I think it is just the extent in which he can bare it overtly, such as his particularly obnoxious Golden Globe win for Avatar where he spoke in his own fictional language.

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