A master at the ancient art of phantom punching, Cronenberg's examination of the Russian mafia's sex trade, currently flourishing in London, doesn't hit you till you're a good quarter mile out of the theater, as you're still contemplating Viggo Mortensen's slicked-back hairdo. Like a cccwolf right before the hunt, Mortensen snarls and calmly stalks as Nikolai, the driver for a sect of the elusive crime syndicate Vory V Zakone, a specter that arose from the ashes of Stalin's work camps. Nikolai works for Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and Semyon's volatile son Kirill (Vincent Cassel), taking care of their transportation and their criminal refuse. When Nikolai snaps off the fingers of a corpse, he asks Kirill and his business associate Azim (Mina E. Mina) to leave... but the audience is allowed to stay.
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Okwe (newcomer Chiwetel Ejiofor) works as a cab driver by day and a hotel desk clerk by night, regularly chewing addictive plant leaves to keep himself from dozing off. An illegal immigrant and former doctor who's arrived in London to flee political forces who sought his arrest in Nigeria, Okwe now resides on the couch of fellow hotel employee Senay (Amelie's Audrey Tautou), a Turkish maid whose legal immigrant status, in a puzzling twist that's never fully explained, prohibits her from being employed. The two social outcasts keep their friendship hidden from their fellow coworkers, each interested in blending into the environment like a chameleon changing spots to elude predators. In a city that eagerly makes use of immigrant labor, Okwe and Senay are the tattered fringe of society, forced to endure humiliation and unable to fight back for fear that their presence might be detected by the immigration police who constantly scour the city's underbelly. What's not mentioned, however, is that since Okwe is an illegal immigrant, he doesn't have any right being in London, and this near-sighted portrayal of his situation - one can assume that his life in London, no matter how difficult and unpleasant, is better than the life in Nigeria that he fled, although the film glosses over this fact - saps some of our sympathy for him.
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