CITY OF LIES is a solid, if not all together groundbreaking crime drama
CITY OF LIES (2021)
The murders of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. still linger in the public consciousness, and director Brad Furman takes on the topic in City of Lies, a crime drama that’s been delayed for the last 3 years. While Shakur and Biggie crime aficionados aren’t going to see anything they haven’t already read (the film is based on Randall Sullivan’s LAbyrinth), the film may renew interest in two of the highest profile cold cases of the last thirty years.
Furman has a tendency to be a bit on the nose (i.e. The Lincoln Lawyer), and City of Lies is no different; however, it surprisingly works. Furman takes us through the seedy side of Los Angeles, utilizing shadows and what can best be described as grittiness to show what lies beyond the land of bright lights of Hollywood most people associate with Los Angeles. The viewer is instantly thrust into a world of gangsters and a corrupt police force.
A little tropey with the (arguably) one good cop, Randall Poole (Johnny Depp), becoming disillusioned with the police force and retiring to a life of solitude until a pesky reporter, Jack Johnson (Forrest Whitaker), comes sniffing around for information for a piece. However, the film still keeps the viewer enthralled and uses a series of flashbacks to show Poole’s investigation. Those who know the case won’t be surprised by any of the twists and turns presented, but the plot is written well enough that viewers will still find it to be an enjoyable watch.
One thing that was nice to see was the focus on the Los Angeles Police Department’s 1998 clean up (although, whether it was done for nefarious reasons is up to the viewers to decide). Many people likely won’t remember this event, with a plethora of late-90s scandals overshadowing how corrupt the LAPD was.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Whitaker delivers a stunning performance as reporter Jack Johnson. He conveys Johnson’s emotions when listening to Poole’s recollections with his trademark intensity. However, Depp’s performance is lackluster at best. While viewers normally see him heavily lean into the characters he plays, he seems to do little more than go through the motions in City of Lies. Depp may have been the intended casting decision to lure people in, but the film is fully on Whitaker’s shoulders. Eagle-eyed viewers will recognize Biggie’s real-life mother, Voletta Wallace, at the end of the film which brings the film to life, showing how recent the murders truly were.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
City of Lies’ strongest aspect may be the set design. Greatly aided by using Los Angeles as the backdrop for the film, viewers truly get to see the side of Los Angeles rarely seen by anyone beyond locals. This isn’t to say viewers are going to get an entirely accurate view of the city, but when so many films simply put glitz and glamour or gangland on display, it was nice to see a more realistic view of the city. Costuming is best described as meh (there’s a few outfits that screamed 80s to me), but not enough to take away from the film.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
For a film about Tupac and Biggie, I was kind of expecting more of their discographies to be used. Maybe I’m just stuck on cliches, but when you have two music icons, it feels a little empty in places. Instead, the music choices are a little bland, although they don’t detract from the film either.
City of Lies is a solid, if not all together groundbreaking, crime drama just bordering on being a biopic. Is anyone going to see anything new? Well, no, but that doesn’t take away from a film that genuinely tries to cast light on what may have happened in the LAPD between 1997-98, and why neither murder was ever solved. A bit fantastical and bordering on conspiracy theories? Yes, but it may renew interest in solving both cases and finally getting justice for the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur.
ONLY in Theaters March 19th, on Digital and On Demand April 9th