City of Tiny Lights | Riz Ahmed's West London private eye is haunted by the past, dogged by the present

City of Tiny Lights Riz Ahmed

City of Tiny Lights Riz Ahmed

‘I wanted to stay around but I had a girl to find and a murder to solve,’ says Riz Ahmed’s world-weary private eye Tommy Akhtar, sounding every inch a West London Philip Marlowe.

Despite the hard-boiled voice-over narration, however, detective thriller City of Tiny Lights is far from convincing as a modern-day noir. Not that the movie, adapted by Patrick Neate from his 2005 novel and directed by Pete Travis (Dredd), doesn’t try hard. It ticks off almost all the gumshoe-movie clichés: a chain-smoking, whiskey-slugging sleuth, an enigmatic femme fatale, neon-drenched streets and a tangled plot. It even has Venetian blinds.

City of Tiny Lights Billie Piper

"Blurry slow-motion action"

Yet the end result is very much shop-soiled Raymond Chandler. It doesn’t help that Ahmed’s Tommy spends as much time brooding about his ill-starred teenage friendship with Billie Piper’s single mum Shelley as he does striving to solve the case brought to him by Cush Jumbo’s possibly duplicitous prostitute Melody.

She wants Tommy to find her missing friend, Russian call girl Natasha. The mystery soon widens to encompass a dead body in a Paddington hotel, the shady property deals of Tommy’s childhood friend Haafiz (James Floyd), a rabble-rousing radical mullah (Alexander Siddig) and a suspicious CIA spook (Vincent Regan).

Yet as the plot thickens, it doesn’t get any more gripping. The flashbacks slow the narrative down and the bursts of blurry slow-motion action fail to speed things up. Even more disappointingly, the villain is all too easy to spot. All in all, a soft-boiled disappointment.

Certificate 15. Runtime 109 mins. Director Pete Travis



Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.