There is no doubt that Riz Ahmed is emerging himself into A-list territory. If he can acquire a lead role and star opposite Kate Hudson and Kiefer Sutherland in 2012’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist,’ serious potential for him to broaden his horizons are on the cards. Then came 2014’s ‘Nightcrawler’ in an excellent supporting role to Jake Gyllenhaal. Here, Riz Ahmed could prove to perform a flawless American accent and not be stereotyped for his Asian ethnicity. And most recently, the fact that he was able to obtain a noticeable role in ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ is the hard evidence that Ahmed can only rise further in the acting industry.
Now he carries a film in a true leading role in Pete Travis’ ‘City of Tiny Lights.’ It is admirable to see Ahmed take a step back from the Hollywood scene and engage in true British filmmaking; sticking close to his British Asian roots. Even better, the fact that Ahmed plays a private eye adds to the charm of his impressive resume of characters he’s portrayed. In the teeming, multicultural metropolis of modern-day London, a seemingly straightforward missing-person case launches a down-at-heel private eye into a dangerous world of religious fanaticism and political intrigue. As the mystery unravels, it may be complicated in some parts but as long as the performances, characterisation and structure of the film build, this is what will be the true value of this interesting gem.
Pete Travis has planned his film carefully. He has followed the conventions and clichés carefully of a private eye mystery. Without a doubt the ‘Vantage Point’ and ‘Dredd’ director embraces the traits of film noir, making London gloomy and gritty. It is captivating to see him direct Ahmed towards detective style narration, smoke a cancer stick in nearly every scene as well as take a swig of his favourite beverage. The advertisement of Wild Turkey whisky is astounding as Ahmed orders a double in many scenes like Bond orders his vodka, Martini.
The audience will enjoy the slow but sturdy ride as Ahmed’s Tommy Akhtar investigates the missing working girl that leads him to the corrupt feds. The subplots of crooked business deals and old friends who are involved in the crime will trigger off Ahmed to show off his character’s conscience. Should he ‘rat’ his friend out or not? That being said, the femme Fatales are also present. Billie Piper’s character Shelley plays Ahmed’s love interest flawlessly. The background of the characters is so essential to the plot as the audience learns of these characters tragic history through intriguing flashbacks that lead us to teenage betrayal and infidelity.
In the end, the questions are answered; the motives are all laid out and the Islamist extremism themes leave the viewer in awe as our protagonist solves the crime, whilst lurking in and out of the London mist and shadows. One can leave the cinema thinking the sequels are perhaps better off turned into big budget British TV. Riz Ahmed plays a Perry Mason type of character, solving different mysteries in every episode. Watch the space….Or is it too much to ask for? One hopes!
[rating=4] | Aly Lalji
Crime, Drama | UK, 2016 | 15 | 7th April 2017 (UK) | Icon Film Distribution | Dir.Pete Travis | Riz Ahmed, Billie Piper, James Floyd, Roshan Seth, Vincent Reagan, Cush Jumbo,