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City of Tiny Lights review: Riz Ahmed shines bright

April 8, 2017

FilmReview | by Cormac O'Brien


In the world’s current political climate, Independent film – specifically ones that give representation to marginalised communities and themes – is more necessary than ever. Peter Travis’ new film does exactly that: City of Tiny Lights brings audiences a modern day London by way of neo-noir multicultural metropolis and exports them to a 24 hours a day, seven days a week capital city captured by the nighttime lights of trains, skylines and corner shops.

Worlds apart from Travis’ overtly ‘Hollywood’ and widely slated 2008 offering, Vantage Point, this indie presents a significantly less starry cast. Up-and-coming Riz Ahmed, a face to watch out for after his recent Golden Globe nomination for HBO’s The Night Of, plays Tommy. The moment Cush Jumbo’s self-assured hooker Melody walks through Tommy’s door, Patrick Neate’s script offers the gumshoe detective a mystery that might tie Melody’s flatmate’s disappearance to his childhood friend Hassiff (James Floyd). As our leading man begins to retrace memories from his past, Shelley (Billie Piper), newly returned to the Acton scene, is ready to confuse Tommy’s tortured mind even more. While Vincent Regan’s all-American Schaeffer is a force set on crushing the Asian community and intent on burying a murder investigation for the sake of uncovering supposed Islamic terrorist activity.

In a mix of murder and terrorism, it’s COTL’s cutthroat humour that wins through. When Rizwan Shebani’s Osman joins forces with Tommy, the two become an almost comedic, fully-fledged East Acton Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson. But Travis’ decision to mix neo-noir camerawork into an otherwise gritty British crime drama brings COTL’s action sequences to a blurry halt time and time again.

A lack of action is complimented by a dwindling and overly idealistic ending (In the same room that Tommy’s father, Farzard Akhtar (Roshan Seth), has in the scene before shot and killed Hassiff’s henchman, Tommy’s final voice over narrates his “new family’s” Christmas dinner) Again trying to emulate American cinema, Travis delivers a falteringly close to what could be a idiosyncratically British film.