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.