City of Tiny Lights movie review: mushy modern noir

City of Tiny Lights yellow light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Doesn’t hit all the noir tropes so much as it wrings all the gloomy joy from them, and the mystery is underwhelming and unmysterious, but still: Riz Ahmed.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): love Riz Ahmed and Billie Piper
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

He’s a down-on-his-luck private eye haunted by his past… which includes the femme fatale who just walked back into his life. He drinks too much. He philosophizes about his work — “I deal in the lies people tell and the truth they don’t” — via weary narration. He’s got a goofy, loyal, and unexpectedly competent unofficial sidekick. And his latest case comes via the hooker with a heart of gold who sashayed into the shabby room over a cab stand he calls his office. City of Tiny Lights doesn’t hit all the noir tropes so much as it wrings them out past the point at which all the gloomy joy has been sucked from them. Still: the riveting Riz Ahmed (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), who is what Robert De Niro would be if he were a Brit of Pakistani extraction, plays the private eye, and he is as compulsively watchable here as he always is.tweet It’s just a shame that the movie as a whole isn’t quite worthy of his presence. (It also wastes the electric flintiness of Billie Pipertweet [Doctor Who] as the femme fatale, who isn’t in the movie anywhere near enough.) It’s nice to see a truly diverse cast — most of the major characters are British Asian (that is, from the Indian subcontinent, not the Far East), including both secular and religious Muslims, or black — and a nontouristy London; all the action takes place in the unfashionable west of the city, and you won’t even glimpse Big Ben or Piccadilly Circus. But the script (by Patrick Neate, based on his own novel) is centered around a mystery that is muddled, underwhelming, and ultimately not very mysterious,tweet and director Pete Travis (Dredd) shoots much of the action in oddly too-intimate closeups: just a little more distance feels necessary, so we don’t feel quite so suffocated. Still, though: Riz Ahmed…

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