Blu-ray Review: City of Lies

By , Contributor
Two key pieces of information will likely help determine whether or not you will want to check out the newly-released (though not really new) true crime drama City of Lies. First, and most obvious, is the fact that it starts two of the greatest actors working in Hollywood—Johnny Depp and Forest Whitaker. Both are excellent in the film, with the former portraying retired LAPD detective Russell Poole and the latter a probing journalist, Jackson.

Want to see these two acting legends play off one another? City of Lies is worth a look for that opportunity alone. Here's the other key to assessing how much value the film holds for you. It is based on a book about the murders of Tupac Shakur and Chris Wallace, aka The Notorious B.I.G. The source material is Randall Sullivan's long-titled 2002 book LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implication of Death Row Records' Suge Knight, and the Origins of the Los Angeles Police Scandal.

For reasons that I'll not get into, there are plenty of potential viewers whose eyes will simply glaze over at those previous two sentences. Okay, I'll name at least one main reason: the "I can't stand/don't care about rap music" argument. But for what it's worth, the movie is not about Tupac or Biggie and isn't a music-based film at all. It's about the alleged LAPD cover-up/conspiracy that Sullivan and the real-life Poole elaborate upon in their book. It's about people in power getting away with murder. Is it accurate? I don't know.

Besides the acting display offered by Depp and Whitaker, there are big problems with director Brad Furman's film. The film was shot back in 2017 and saw festival play in 2018. Apparently there were numerous legal issues that delayed the film, reportedly including pressure by the LAPD to keep it from coming out. But unfortunately, there isn't any coherence in the storytelling. Ultimately the film recalls Oliver Stone's JFK a bit (not stylistically, though Furman does offer some bravura sequences) in the way that is doesn't present a story. It presents a series of possibilities that might or might be accurate.

Regardless of how much interest you have in the deaths of two of hip hop's most influential artists, in the end City of Lies isn't much of a movie. It's a collection of scenes bolstered by the acting chops of its Oscar-caliber leads (Whitaker won Best Actor for The Last King of Scotland, Depp has been nominated three times). Deleted scenes, a too-short featurette, and audio commentary by director Brad Furman and source-material author Randall Sullivan supplement Lionsgate's Blu-ray release.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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