City of Tiny Lights




Hollywood noir resurfaces in London in the 21st century.


 City of Tiny Lights
Riz Ahmed


Like Vantage Point which Pete Travis made in 2008, City of Tiny Lights is a mainstream contemporary thriller, but it's a very different animal being a modern variant on Hollywood's film noir classics of the 1940s in which the central character is a private detective. To return to that genre is by no means unwelcome even if Patrick Neale, adapting his own novel and giving his detective, Tommy Akhtar, a voice over, can only echo and not equal our memories of such comments in film adaptations from the works of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.


The setting here is London, but even so the comparison remains a valid one, and it is a strength of City of Tiny Lights that the ever reliable Riz Ahmed playing our hero is required to carry the film and does so effortlessly. Less happily, one scene stands out in a way not intended: that's when Tommy is asked if he is confused and replies engagingly: "not more than usual". Indeed, the old private eye tales, which frequently start out with a client wanting to trace a missing person as is also the case here, were noted for their complicated plots. But Neale unwisely increases that element by linking to the investigation a romantic triangle in the past involving Tommy, a close friend and a girl named Shelley. This adds to the complexity because it carries an extra mystery related to how it concluded violently, something that is only fully divulged towards the close of the film. With much intercutting involved, this makes for a degree of confusion that in the event does indeed prove to be more than usual and that is emphatically not a good thing.


With Seventeen Films and the BFI participating in the production, one wonders if somebody bought the notion that a contemporary noir touching not only on prostitution, drug dealing and property dealers but also featuring a mullah who attracts the attention of those investigating Islamic terrorism would give the story social significance. In fact these elements are merely ballast, window-dressing for a traditional thriller entertainment. Only the fact that the hero is the son of an Asian immigrant (Roshan Seth) provides some relevant ethnic weight. In the event, the appeal of City of Tiny Lights resides in the mysteries contained in its plot, so it is all the more unfortunate that from time to time most audiences will find themselves at sea. However, fans of Riz Ahmed will get their money's worth.




Cast: Riz Ahmed, Billie Piper, Cush Jumbo, James Floyd, Roshan Seth, Hannah Rae, Mohammad Ali Amiri, Vincent Regan, Danny Webb, Ram John Holder, Branko Tomovic, Damson Idris.


Dir Pete Travis, Pro Rebecca O'Brien and Ado Yoshizaki Cassuto, Screenplay Patrick Neale, from his novel, Ph Felix Wiedemann, Pro Des Victor Molero, Ed David Charap, Music Ruth Barrett, Costumes Claire Anderson.


BBC Films/BFI/LipSync/FEL-UK/NDF International/Sixteen Films-Icon Film Distribution.
110 mins. UK. 2016. Rel: 7 April 2017. Cert. 15.