Riz Ahmed is Tommy Akhtar, a diligent, chain smoking, hard drinking, taciturn PI in the best mould in Pete Travis’ latest, City of Tiny Lights. Set in the parts of London you rarely get to see in such crime flicks based in the capital, it aims to be as grubby and as hardboiled as its protagonist. It succeeds in part, almost entirely down to Ahmed’s performance.
Tommy has a History you see, a Tragic one that is gradually revealed as we trail him through the housing estates sniffing out clues to the whereabouts of a local escort - the flatmate of the sort of girl that used to turn up in Bogart’s office back in the day “Your door was open.…” When he stumbles upon an old school friend, now a very successful Businessman, it triggers memories of a youthful tragedy and it’s not long before the girl at the hear of that is back on the scene and Tommy is experiencing all kinds of professional conflict.
Throw in his ailing dad, a local preacher who may or may not be a radical and the mosque that is clearing out the neighbourhood’s drug dealers by potentially unsavoury means and it’s going to be a long night for Tommy.
Set predominantly in dark, rainy London, Travis’ movie hits all the right noir signature moves but sadly doesn’t do anything quite original enough to stand out from the crowd. The story is one you will have seen before and although some characters stand out (Roshan Seth is good value as Tommy’s cricket obsessed father), there is little here to surprise beyond some nicely gritty and authentic feeling views of yet to be gentrified London.
City of Tiny Lights on the whole has a distinctly TV feel about it and some very annoying blurred slow-motion camera work for many of the action scenes distracts from the grimy atmosphere. A standout performance from the ever impressive Ahmed will do his CV no harm at all but there simply isn’t enough originality here to stand out.