Depp is ambitious about the investigation of The Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac’s murders.
Johnny Depp has been finding himself with a number of bombs lately from “Alice Through the Looking Glass” to Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” and the box office receipts have his career on a tipsy scale. Should he cut back on the goofy big-budgeted movie characters, and take on smaller films as he did in the past with “Donnie Brasco,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” and “Ed Wood,” among others.
I didn’t go near some of his recent flops like “London Fields” or “The Professor,” but I was interested in seeing him take on a the role of a real-life LAPD detective on the case of the murders of The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur in “City of Lies.” The real-life detective is Russell Poole (1956-2015), who is on the case of two murders. One in particular was the infamous drive-by shooting of The Notorious B.I.G., and another was a road rage, in which white cop Frank Lyga (Shea Whigham) murders black cop Kevin Gaines (Amin Joseph). But mostly, “City of Lies” focuses on the rappers’ deaths (both of which are unsolved), and the people accused or involved with them.
Depp does a good, professional job at morphing into the character, as he usually would in his other films, both on major or minor production. He has the dialogue, make-up, age, and talents to shake things up, especially when in the movie, his stars cross with a journalist named Jack (Forrest Whitaker), who interviews him about his investigation. He was inspired by the real-life journalist Randall Sullivan, for the record, and this movie is based on his book “LAbyrnth.” That’s when Poole delivers his theory that dirty cops were involved in Biggie Smalls’ murder, how he was taken off the case, and how deep he was willing to go. Cops and pedestrians-black or white-have their own aspects, and results in the on-going racism.
Certain parts of the case are a little dull and confusing, but mostly, “City of Lies” explores the main detective’s commitment to the case, and how the journalist needs to get the facts. They’re both portrayed ambitiously by Depp and Whitaker, and director Brad Furman (in his first feature since “The Infiltrator” back in 2016) guides them with the right aspects and intentions. Seeing them delve in their characters’ motives, and connecting with each other keeps the movie on track.
There are also some entertaining moments, including the opening road rage between Lyga and Gaines, which represents the fear and anger of modern day racism, and a small shoot-out between Russell Poole and dirty cop Rafael Perez (Neil Brown, Jr., who played DJ Yella in “Straight Outta Compton”), which takes place in the rain and looks riveting. And the emotional weight of the murders, arguments, and fights makes you angry and sad for all the true reasons. it’s about who was involved with the main murders, and who distinguishes themselves from cops and criminals.
Poole was no criminal, and he was no dirty cop. He was an honest detective trying to get the facts straight and Depp delivers in that role.
In Select Theaters and On Demand