There’s not too many private eye, detective movies coming out these days, so London-set thriller, City of Tiny Lights, is a cool prospect. What caught my eye and made me give this a go, is the fact that the main character is played by a British Pakistani. I thought this was a nice, fresh change that couldn’t be anymore appropriate for our multicultural times.
Riz Ahmed, star of HBO’s The Night Of, plays small-time private investigator, Tommy Akhtar, who gets given the job to track down a missing girl. Yeah, it’s that old missing-person trope again… But too be fair, it’s a great ploy to keep the viewer watching, so I’m not surprised it’s been used a hundred times over.
Tommy is more a less a homage character, a throwback to the dark anti-heroes of film Noir. He’s a swaggering, chain-smoking, hardened investigator, the complete opposite of the shy boy he was in his youth, which is revealed in various flashbacks. His past isn’t exactly a happy one and there’s stuff he still hasn’t sorted out, old problems that are constantly on his mind.
City of Tiny Lights is nice enough to watch, but it never feels fully realised. It gets top marks for being engaging and it ticks every box in the detective playbook, but the end product doesn’t really add up to much. The plot isn’t as well put together as it should be and none of the developments go anywhere you don’t expect.
It could have done without the needless flashbacks and I thought the voice-over from Ahmed, felt forced. It’s not very consistent and at a point, the film gives up with the voice over and then it randomly comes back. It doesn’t work and I just didn’t see the point of it. Not to mention that it’s fairly contrived anyway, with laughable lines like “Death weighs heavier than heartbreak.” Need I say more about it?
Yet the film is continuously watchable and the story always moves at a quick pace. Ahmed is great in the lead role and he’s the main reason anyone should watch City of Tiny Lights. Following this guy around as he goes about his business is the best thing about this film. Ahmed isn’t given much to work with here, but he carries the whole film, which takes some doing for any actor.
Some blurry, slow-mo editing is another unnecessary part of this film. It’s another distraction for the audience and I don’t see what reason it had to be there, other than that it was supposed to bring style to the movie. It comes across like a gimmick and feels a little awkward. It’s a dodgy decision from the director, one that has a negative impact on the film.
Enjoyable but forgettable: City of Tiny Lights doesn’t aim high, but it makes good use out of its shadowy, rainy London setting. There’s an interesting portrayal of ethnic minorities to be found here too. So, don’t expect to see any cockney gangsters boozing in East End pubs. This film is rich with diverse, religious community. In the end, it’s by-the-books, still worth a watch, but only a half-decent entry into the detective genre.
Watch the trailer for City of Tiny Lights below!
Director: Pete Travis
Writer: Patrick Neate
Stars: Riz Ahmed, Billie Piper, James Floyd, Cush Jumbo, Roshan Seth, Hannah Rae
Distributor: Icon Film Distribution (UK)
Run Time: 110 min
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