There’s a moment in Pete Travis’ British Noir, City of Tiny Lights, in which Riz Ahmed’s chain-smoking, bourbon-drinking detetective returns to the scene of a murder he’s investigating, only to be told by a London copper that the place has been “Cillit-Banged”; a reference to a cleaning brand that’s fronted by cult ambassador, Barry Scott, which, intentional or not, is just one example of the laughable dialogue that drags down the otherwise decent thriller.
Other examples of substandard writing are most apparent during the monologues that Ahmed is forced to perform, which attempt to capture the disgruntled bitterness of the detectives of old, but prove head-shakingly hilarious to the point where the film feels more parody than homage. It’s a frustrating shame because the story itself, a mystery set within the multicultural communities of London, shows signs of promise in its conspiracy surrounding missing prostitutes, shadowy government agents and religious fanaticism.
The problem is that Patrick Neate’s screenplay lacks the pinpoint focus needed for such stories, throwing a subplot into the mix that deals with the hero’s past love and tradegy which has no real bearing on the central story whatsoever. And away from the writing, Pete Travis’ directon is equally as frustrating at times with the filmmaker choosing the shaky-cam approach to the few action sequences that there are.
Riz Ahmed’s star charisma and talent manages to carry a lot of the film’s dead weight for the majority, and his supporting cast are just about good enough to make the whole thing watchable – Roshan Seth is particularly memorable as the father of Ahmed’s character. Even then, they aren’t quite enough to save City of Tiny Lights from being anything other than a middle-of-the-road neo-noir. That said, I’d probably be willing to go on more adventures with Ahmed’s Tommy Akhtar, providing he brings a better script with him the next time around.
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