Riz Ahmed (Rogue One, Una, Girls) certainly has the chops for such a detective, bringing a bruised toughness to City of Tiny Lights. Unfortunately, the film itself doesn’t so much recall the pre-war American noir classics as an ‘edgy’ lower-sixth stage production of The Big Sleep.
Ahmed plays Tommy Akhtar, a private eye approached by a prostitute who wants him to find her missing co-worker. As he pulls on the thread of the case, it slowly unravels into a longer story involving an Islamist group, property development, and drug dealing. As it turns out – wouldn’t you know it? – the conspiracy goes all the way to the top.
Tommy’s school friend Lovely (James Floyd) and old squeeze Shelley (Billie Piper) are also pulled into the mix, having something to do with a trauma in their shared past. This superfluous sub-plot means that Shelley’s character mostly appears in flashbacks played by a younger actress, with Piper herself only appearing in a handful of scenes. This is a shame, as she could have brought a vice-girl glamour perfect for a London neo-noir, but her tiny role isn’t the biggest disappointment in City of Tiny Lights.
Riz Ahmed as Tommy Akhtar
Film noir is supposed to have a twisting, borderline-incomprehensible plot, but it's also supposed to be stylish and exciting, which City of Tiny Lights isn’t. You’ve a full bingo-card of hardboiled clichés before the end of the first act, and the attempts to update the genre are not only laughable – Tommy’s business is findable via a ‘detective’ app – but sit badly with the anachronisms that the film can't bear to relinquish (in true noir fashion, everyone is smoking like their doctor told them it was healthy).
A pulpy gumshoe thriller that joins the dots between religious extremism and London's high property prices should be intriguing at the least, but City of Tiny Lights' subjects are just window dressing. For examples of how to update film noir as brilliant homage or riotous send-up, see Rian Johnson’s Brick and Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang respectively. City of Tiny Lights can remain hidden in the shadows.
|What||City of Tiny Lights film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
07 Apr 17 – 07 Jun 17, Times Vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more details|