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CITY OF TINY LIGHTS
Director: Pete Travis
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Billie Piper, Cush Jumbo, James Floyd, Vincent Regan
Classic noir, but in the most British of settings, returns to cinemas this week in the shape of Pete Travis’s CITY OF TINY LIGHTS.
Based on Patrick Neate’s best seller of the same name, and adapted for the screen by the author himself, it’s set in modern London but steeped in the traditions of the genre. A down at heel private eye, with an office above a mini cab business, who likes to appear cynical but the fact that he lives at home looking after his ailing dad shows he has a more compassionate side. He’s a British Asian, with a liking for cigarettes and lots of “double Turk, no ice” – Wild Turkey bourbon, for the uninitiated. The haze of cigarette smoke, the alcohol, the clubs and restaurants are all familiar noir settings and the beautiful blonde with a past is a regular as well.
In this instance, private detective Tommy (Riz Ahmed) is approached by high class prostitute Melody (Cush Jumbo), who’s concerned about a missing friend. But this is no straightforward case of find the lady. Tommy finds himself entangled with shadows from his past – glamorous blonde Shelley (Billie Piper) who’s returned to the city to run a restaurant. And Hafiz, nicknamed Lovely, (James Floyd) whose business skills have made him as wealthy and slick as Tommy isn’t. He’s part of Tommy’s past, and he brings politics and corruption into the mix. It’s all set against a backdrop of multi-cultural London where cracks are starting to show.
At night, the CITY OF TINY LIGHTS is a whole different city, full of shadows, half light, suspicion and shady characters. And it’s classic noir territory. Nocturnal London is well shot and the transition from night to day is marked by some striking and streaked shots of sunrise. In fact, director of photography, Felix Wiedemann, gives us plenty to appreciate. The aerial photography, often showing Tommy walking those mean streets of London, cigarette in hand. And, best of all, the blurred shots saved for the moments of violence and action. We’re not shown the worst of the violence, only the aftermath, but the colours merge like a Francis Bacon painting to tell us everything we need to know in an energetic and imaginative way.
As the film progresses, story grows increasingly complex, but it’s not without its holes. There’s a huge one in Tommy and Shelley’s back story and which also involves her boyfriend at the time, Stuart (George Sergeant). Shelley has returned to London with her daughter, Emma (Hannah Rae, who also plays the young Shelley – a neat twist), who’s never been told anything about her father, except that his name was Stuart. Yet, as we follow the flashbacks, at no point is there any mention of Shelley being pregnant. It’s a significant omission because what actually happens between the three would have made a lot more sense and been more credible.
Director Pete Travis has assembled a classy cast. Riz Ahmed is on top form as Tommy, with just the right mix of resilience and sensitivity. Like every private eye in a noir, he has a nice line in cynicism but what he doesn’t have, unfortunately, is the whip-cracking dialogue that Raymond Chandler bestowed on Philip Marlowe. Billie Piper is a touch under-used as the lady from his past but there’s a great turn from Mohammad Ali Amiri as Avid, a teenager who thinks he’s streetwise and ends up becoming Tommy’s eyes and ears. He’s tech savvy and full of street talk, calling everybody “blood” – although, if he’d seen Noel Clarke’s BROTHERHOOD last year, he’d know that’s decidedly uncool.
The film has plenty going for it. So why, oh why, does it all come apart so badly in the final section? After building up steadily and atmospherically to what should be an explosive climax, it all crumbles apart and we’re given something simplistic and, in the final scenes, ridiculously gooey. It doesn’t fit with the style or content of the rest of the film. It’s the most terrible let-down and makes you feel you’ve wasted the best part of two hours. And it leaves you with the feeling that it’s been a lot of fuss about nothing.
CITY OF TINY LIGHTS is released in cinemas on Friday, 7 April 2017.
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