City of Lies

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

City of Lies
dir Brad Furman
scr Christian Contreras
prd Miriam Segal, Paul Brennan, Stuart Manashil
with Johnny Depp, Forest Whitaker, Shea Whigham, Toby Huss, Shamier Anderson, Dayton Callie, Neil Brown Jr, Xander Berkeley, Glenn Plummer, Peter Greene, Rockmond Dunbar, Michael Pare
release US 19.Mar.21
18/US 1h52

whigham berkeley pare

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depp and whitaker
The fact that this film was shelved for two and a half years adds to its chillingly timely true story. Director Brad Furman skilfully mixes noir touches with a swirly, enigmatic structure to dig beneath the headlines. Archival footage and a documentary approach to camerawork gives the film a strong sense of authenticity, boosted by powerhouse performances. The urgent tone feels a little overstated, but the story is genuinely incendiary.
In 2015 Los Angeles, police still haven't solved the murder of 23-year-old Christopher Wallace, aka Notorious B.I.G., 18 years ago. Now journalist Jack (Whitaker) approaches Detective Russell (Depp), who had the investigation taken from him when he connected the dots back to the police department, which was operating like a criminal gang. His digging resulted in ruthless bullying, especially when he filed a case against the force itself. But new events have brought the case back to mind, so the weary Russell works with Jack to finally get the explosive truth out in the open.
To paint a complex picture, the smart script establishes the historical context, with the culture of police corruption set against criminal influences in rap music. The carefully constructed narrative explores links between various incidents, allowing the film to tackle larger problems. Covering more than two decades, the plot features a huge number of important characters, and it's not always easy to keep people and timelines straight. But the cumulative effect is compelling. And what these events reveal is shocking.

Depp gives a solidly understated turn as a deep-thinking, ramshackle detective (yes, there's a Columbo reference) who's understands the systemic issues he's up against. He takes his job seriously, tenaciously seeking the truth regardless of personal consequences. His interaction with Whitaker's insistent Jack is fun to watch, as they work through the details of the case, including why the facts were silenced. It's thrilling to watch them dig through evidence that reveals such a massive coverup.

Contreras' script offers plenty for colourful scene-stealers to play with, adding terrific textures. And Furman keeps the story moving briskly, identifying important people while letting smaller roles dissolve into the bigger picture. The quantity of filthy cops is staggering, as is the willingness of leaders to cover up their crimes and divert attention from what is really going on. This is a strong comment about how police and journalists must remain separate from those they are charged with holding accountable. And an appearance by Wallace's mother Voletta adds an emotional gut punch.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 17.Mar.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall