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Brad Furman City of Lies Review


City of Lies [Video Review]

City of Lies [Video Review]

L.A. Controversial: Furman Revisits the Wallace Murder in Mediocre Adaptation

Brad Furman City of Lies ReviewWhatever the likely combination of reasons for the three-year delay in its US theatrical release, including merging distributors, the legal woes of its lead star, political corruption, or an ongoing pandemic, City of Lies, the latest venture from director Brad Furman, is intrinsically a compromised product.

Based on the 2002 expose LAbyrinth from journalist Randall Sullivan, this daring hypothesis outlines a comprehensive case against those likely responsible for the murders of Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace aka The Notorious B.I.G. in 1996 and 1997, respectively. Whatever the likely combination of reasons for why this film adaptation doesn’t work, including distracting stunt casting, a cliché-ridden script, a pseudo fabrication of certain people or events, and a director with a penchant for mainstream semantics, also bolsters the film’s intrinsically compromised nature.

LAPD detective Russell Poole (Johnny Depp) finds himself drawn into seedy underbelly of corruption when he’s assigned to investigate the murder of Brooklyn rap icon Christopher Wallace in 1997 Los Angeles. During his investigation of a deadly shoot-out between two undercover LAPD officers Frank Lyga (Shea Whigham) and Kevin Gaines (Amin Joseph), Poole is promoted to a more prolific case in which he pieces together evidence between the two shootings, deducing several officers on the payroll of Death Row Records were potentially involved in a plot to assassinate Wallace at the behest of music producer Suge Knight. But Poole finds his reputation derailed while pursuing his theories. Nearly two decades later, journalist Jack Jackson (Forest Whitaker), who had published discredited theories of his own on the connection between Wallace and Tupac Shakur, tracks down Poole to warm up a cold case the LAPD desires to keep eternally on ice.

Furman clearly has an interest in exploring intersections of injustice, corruption and the troubled US legal system, which produced his most celebrated title to date, 2011’s pulpy The Lincoln Lawyer. While 2013’s Runner Runner was a rough tumble, his 2016 film The Infiltrator (read review) returned to the theme of a tenacious everyman who uses his wiles to expose Pablo Escobar’s money laundering through the US banking system. And in City of Lies, Depp and Whitaker are the martyred pillars of their professions daring to question the LAPD and expose deep rooted corruption which, if exposed, would bankrupt the organization and tarnish Los Angeles irrevocably. It’s compelling material, and even engrossing despite the cliched parameters which reduce this to a frazzled collection of troubling instances revisited on a road which leads to nowhere in particular. Arguably, Furman, and his screenwriter Christopher Contreras, are a bit out of their league in conveying both the intensity and importance of the iconic figures inextricably connected, faltering egregiously on how the media helped instill a toxic narrative of the rivalry between the East and West coast rap artists.

Someone a bit more connected to this period or this material might have generated a more formidable energy (F. Gary Gray, for instance, whose 2015 film Straight Outta Compton provided the stomping grounds for the nail in Suge Knight’s coffin), while Johnny Depp and Forest Whitaker are reduced to familiar tendencies from both performers.

The more interesting elements of City of Lies are in the sidelines, such as some memorable sequences shared by Laurence Mason and Shamier Anderson. Voletta Wallace appears as herself (and executive produced), and one wishes her presence had felt as interesting as it would otherwise suggest. A whole slew of character actors, like Toby Huss, Xander Berkley, Neil Brown Jr. and Glen Plummer instill a hangdog sense of doom, while DP Monica Lenczewska (Imperial Dreams, Park) lends an interesting visual angle to the infamous cityscapes. Inevitably, City of Lies feels incomplete, much like All Eyez on Me (2017), Notorious (2009) and even the recent 2021 documentary Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell, because how all these personal narratives converge tragically demands an intense, carefully outlined overview of what happened.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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