24th Jun2019

‘CIty of Lies’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Johnny Depp, Forest Whitaker, Toby Huss, Dayton Callie, Neil Brown Jr., Louis Herthum, Shea Whigham, Xander Berkeley, Melanie Benz, Shamier Anderson, Laurence Mason, Christian George, Michael Pare, Amin Joseph, Josh Hardwick | Written by Christian Contreras | Directed by Brad Furman


City of Lies, also known as LAbyrinth, is directed by Brad Furman and is based off the book LAbyrinth by Randall Sullivan. The film stars Johnny Depp and Forest Whitaker as Russell Poole and Jack Jackson, respectively. The former, a seasoned LAPD Detective who is embroiled into the murders of Christopher Wallace and Tupac Shakur. The latter, an equally as seasoned reporter who is digging deeper in the case for his newspaper’s anniversary retrospective about the murders. Furman’s film is what I feared it would be – a conspiracy theory baited drama on the killings themselves without much substance found anywhere else.

The core of the film follows the investigation, before, during and after these devasting murders. Yet not in the manner of detail you’re hoping it would explore. You’re not going to get any new answers or depth on this case, aside from conjecture and hypothesis. What you will get is that of a slightly intriguing character study on the eroding measures of morality fighting against a system that is hiding more secrets than its willing to tell. Depp puts forth a decent performance as Russell Poole. He perfectly embodies this sense of jaded fatigue and the resulting performance brings a necessary weight to proceedings. Gone is the clandestine talent of a performance engulfed in CGI, of what has for many years being Depp’s signature trait with heavy make-up. Without such unnecessary character design here we’re beginning to see the very talent that sparked his career.

The writing in the screenplay by Christian Contreras lets Depp down more often than not with insignificant small subtle threads about Poole’s family. The film doesn’t explore it nearly enough to a sufficient standard to create a captivating character.

Whitaker as Jack Jackson has even less to do and say in this feature. His character is simply a deposit voice for the audience. Asking questions, the audience is thinking, and this constant thread becomes tiresome and patronising before long. Ultimately having the film divert into constant exposition and explanation. The result of such creates an anticlimactic and underwhelming feature that constantly baits its audience into finding answers but never actually conveys such.

It’s not the films only fault, sadly. City of Lies has an incredibly despondent sense of time placement. In one moment, you’re in 1997 with the fallout investigating the murders and the in the next scene suddenly the characters have iPhones and you’ll see Ranger Rover Sports. There is never a clear distinctive decision cutting back and forth to showcase the setting of time and with that, the edit by Leo Trombetta creates a confusing and muddled narrative. The colour grading is also slightly obtuse and none effective with constant muted greys and dark blues throughout, that more so create an ugly picture than immerse the audience into an era. Equally as poor is the make-up… Interestingly it isn’t that of Depp, whose character doesn’t seem to age in the twenty-year investigation, but it is more the supporting cast such as Shea Whigham’s character Frank Lyga, who has perhaps the worst wig ever put to screen.


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