Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 November 2019

Film review: City Of Tiny Lights is a compelling film that sets off a chain reaction

Adapted by novelist Patrick Neate from his own 2005 novel, the script is a contemporary-set London tale that dips into the British capital’s underbelly.
Riz Ahmed in City of Tiny Lights. Courtesy BBC Films
Riz Ahmed in City of Tiny Lights. Courtesy BBC Films

City Of Tiny Lights

Director: Pete Travis

Starring: Riz Ahmed, Billie Piper, Cush Jumbo, James Floyd

Four stars

A film noir with a difference, Pete Travis’ City of Tiny Lights is an intoxicating brew: dark and dangerous, but also achingly romantic. Adapted by novelist Patrick Neate from his own 2005 novel, the script is a contemporary-set London tale that dips into the British capital’s underbelly. But you won’t find Cockney gangsters lingering in East End pubs here. This is a world where the criminals come with white collars and pinstripe suits. 

Sifting through the dirt is Tommy Aktar (Riz Ahmed), a private eye who has returned to London to look after his ailing father, a cricket-mad Pakistani immigrant. Returning to his office one day, he finds Melody (Cush Jumbo), a young call-girl who is concerned after the disappearance of her Russian roommate. It doesn’t take long for Aktar to find her friend’s last appointment – a hotel room where he discovers the dead body of her last paying client.

As Aktar snoops further, the increasingly murky tale leads him back into his past – to his friend Lovely (James Floyd), now a flash property developer, and to his former old flame Shelley (Billie Piper), now a single mother working as a hostess in a restaurant. With frequent flashbacks, a picture builds of adolescent friendship, the ache of first love and unresolved issues still being harboured by Tommy and co.

More urgent are the modern-day scenes, as Tommy’s investigation takes him into a Muslim community rife with economic instability, drugs, poverty and pockets of Islamic extremism. One face-to-face with the head of an Islamic Youth Group (Alexander Siddig), where Tommy is warned about the dangers of “false idols”, is chilling. But Neate and Travis are careful not to turn this into a film about Muslims on society’s fringes.

Narrated by Ahmed’s whiskey-and-cigarette-seasoned voice-over, it’s a story of corruption and vice that ultimately morphs into something more surprising for the genre. Really, it’s a love story at heart, with Tommy re-assessing what he lost years earlier with Shelley (despite the presence of glamorous women, they aren’t notably out to entrap their male counterparts, femme fatale style).

Every bit as good as he was in HBO’s series The Night Of, Ahmed is a wonderfully compelling lead. It’s heartening also to see veteran Indian actor Roshan Seth cast as Tommy’s father, but the real star might just be cinematographer Felix Weidemann, whose kaleidoscopic portrait of London really captures the grimy poetry of the rain-washed streets. Superb.

artslife@thenational.ae

Updated: May 31, 2017 04:00 AM

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