Brad Furman’s City Of Lies

Question for you: did the LAPD use propagandist maneuvers and media manipulation in the 90’s to fictitiously outline an ongoing east coast/west coast gang war that never even existed and then, using covert tactics and unstable deep cover operatives, deliberately and unlawfully orchestrate behind the scenes murders of influential rappers Christopher ‘Notorious BIG’ Wallace and Tupac Shakur? This film certainly seems to think so, and the fact that it was suspiciously buried in distribution hell for three plus years following its production and snuck unceremoniously into release just this year has me thinking so as well. City Of Lies, based on the documentarian book LAbyrinth, is a fascinating, paranoia laced, very well written procedural thriller starring Johnny Depp as real life LAPD detective Russell Poole who never stopped trying to find out who really shot Biggie and Forest Whitaker as a reporter interested in the case who spends some time with him trying to get to the truth. The film is centralized around 2015 when the final chapter of Russell’s almost career-long investigation arrives at a conclusion but it leaps all over the 90’s for stylish, eerie, memory laden flashbacks that evoke everything from Tony Scott to Bourne movies and the filmmaking aesthetics, score, soundtrack and performances are all exemplary. Depp has had the misfortune of being dealt a few shitty hands lately which I won’t go into too much, but a mystifying scandal was whipped around this film itself to scapegoat him when it appears the real reason this film was buried was… well, just look at the subject matter. He gives a pained, haunted, understated, against type and altogether gripping performance here that hopefully is the start of a surge of roles that sees his phoenix ascent upwards from the quagmire of bullshit he’s been put through. Whitaker is fantastic as well and quite soulful in the third act and director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) assembles an unbelievable supporting cast just packed with character actor talent including Michael Paré, Toby Huss, Xander Berkeley, Rockmund Dunbar, Laurence Mason, Louis Herthum, Shea Wigham, Dayton Callie, Biggie’s real life mother Voletta Wallace playing herself, Obba Babatundé, Kevin Chapman, Glenn Plummer and the great Peter Greene as a particularly acid tongued LAPD commander. The film has a way of swerving just south of every question asked and a knack for making you feel like this story is open ended and unsolved. Unsolved is different than unproved though, and if everything that Depp’s Russell Poole cataloged and uncovered is for real then it’s no wonder this film never saw a major release and was held up for so long. Whatever really happened back then, this is one finely crafted thriller with a galaxy of terrific performances, a taut, engaging narrative and an incentive to shed light on those who abuse power, should know better, and need someone to call them out on it. Who better than a good cop like Poole, and who better to bring his story to life than an actor like Depp, who can pretty much do anything but tries something we’re not used to seeing from him everyday: play a regular guy just trying to do the right thing in the face of absolute corruption.

-Nate Hill

Dark Blue: A Review by Nate Hill 

  

Dark Blue is the overlooked performance of Kurt Russsel’s career, and also the best. It’s also a film that brilliantly examines corruption, lies, brutality and abuse of power through a thoughtful narrative lens and via a powerfully moving story . So why then was it received with an unceremonious cold shoulder? Life is full of mysteries. I was too young to see it when it came out, or pay attention to the buzz surrounding it’s release, but I fell in love with it when I was older, and it remains one of my two favourite LA cop films, alongside Training Day. Kurt Russell throws himself headlong into one of the fiercest and most complex character arcs he has ever been in as Eldon Perry, an LAPD detective who comes from a long lineage of law enforcement. Eldon is a corrupt cop, but the important thing to realize about them is that they never consider themselves to be the bad guys which they are eventually labeled as. To him he’s on a righteous crusade, led by Captain Jack Van Meter (a purely evil Brendan Gleeson), a quest to clear the streets using any means necessary in his power. Eldon is blind to to the broken operative he has let himself become, questioned only by his wife (Lolita Davidvitch) and son, who are both thoroughly scared of him. The film takes place during the time of the Rodney King beating, with tensions on the rise following the acquittal of four LAPD officers. Ving Rhames is resilient as Holland, the one honcho in the department who isn’t rotten or on his way there, a knight for the force and a desperate loyalist trying to smoke out the corruption. Perry is assigned a rookie partner (Scott Speedman) and begins to show him the ropes, which include his patented brand of excessive force and intimidation. As crime ratchets up and a storm brews, Perry realizes that his blind trust in Van Meter and his agenda has been gravely misplaced, and could lead to his end. It’s a dream of an arc for any actor to take on, and Russell is seems is the perfect guy for the job. He fashions Perry into a reprehensible antihero whose actions have consequences, but not before a good long look in the mirror and the option to change the tides and find some redemption, before it’s far too late. It’s not so common anymore for crime films to cut through the fat of intrigue and action, reaching the gristle of human choices, morality and the grey areas that permeate every institution know to man, especially law enforcement. Working from a David Ayer screenplay based on a story by James Ellroy (hence the refreshing complexity), director Ron Shelton and everyone else onboard pull their weight heftily to bring this difficult, challenging, sure fire winner of a crime drama to life. Overlooked stuff.