Brad Furman’s City of Lies is the latest attempt to monetize the unsolved murders of rap artists Christopher Wallace (aka Notorious BIG) and Tupac Shakur in the 1990s. The murders previously wrestled with in film and in print have spawned a myriad of theories that would give even the most seasoned filmmakers a break.
Not Furman, who (with screenwriter Christian Contreras) dramatizes Randall Sullivan’s 2002 nonfiction book, aptly named “LAbyrinth,” with more appetite than artistry. His focus is on Russell Poole (Johnny Depp, who confuses somnolent with Ernst), a former Los Angeles cop who was tormented decades ago by his investigation into Wallace’s death. We know this because his depressing apartment is lavishly plastered in details of the case.
In this psychological quagmire comes Jack Jackson (Forest Whitaker), a journalist who works on a 20-year crime retrospective. Jackson needs information, while Poole – who believes the LAPD was actively involved in Wallace’s murder and subsequent cover-up – needs a confessor. So we’re on the trail of memory to see how Poole fights against police corruption, enemy suspects, and his antagonistic superiors.
At the core of a film about a man’s self-destructive obsession (Poole had to resign two weeks before his retirement), City of Lies has an unexpected edge. The appearance is dirty and the atmosphere is gloomy; But what could have been a capricious character study or a tight-knit conspiracy thriller is instead a bleak process, a misunderstood pulp of flashbacks, voice overs and dead ends.
City of lies
Rated R for offensive language and deadly weapons. Running time: 1 hour 52 minutes. In theaters. Please consult the Policies of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before viewing films in theaters.