By: Nick Ferwerda
City of Tiny Lights asks its audience to be unbelievably committed to its cut-up narrative.
Freelancing private eye Tommy Akhtar (Riz Ahmed) is hired by a russian prostitute Melody (Cush Jumbo) to track down her co-worker and friend who had gone missing. This case opens many personal doors for Tommy; reuniting him with people from his past including an old girlfriend Shelly (Billie Piper) and past friend “Lovely” (James Lloyd). Tommy gets in way over his head with this case by bringing these old flames into it.
The story bounces back and forth between the personal stories of Tommy with a series of flashbacks explaining the fate of this social circle, the murder case being investigated, and how they link together. However, City of Tiny Lights abuses flashback storytelling and doesn’t focus enough on the current case Tommy is working on.
The events do connect, but the film takes its sweet time. I expected more from this novel-to-film adaptation. Author Patrick Neate wrote the film’s screenplay that’s based on his 2005 novel, yet the pacing is dull and off-beat. I cannot blame everything on Neate though. The director of this film, Pete Travis (Dredd), has been known to create dark and violent worlds, but his strengths work against him as he constructs a dreary world that resists any interesting, eye-catching qualities.
The cast is left out to dry as well. It’s nice to see a leading role from Riz Ahmed (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Nightcrawler), but this movie doesn’t give him much to do. Disappointingly, Billie Piper (TV’s Doctor Who and Penny Dreadful) also falls short with her performance of a lacklustre character. However, the underwhelming script doesn’t do her any favours – such is the story for other supporting performers.
While City of Tiny Lights sporadically shows signs of potential, it simply doesn’t deliver.
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Nick Ferwerda: @NickFerwerda