City of Lies (Blu-ray)

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Johnny Depp plays the real-life LAPD detective who investigated the murder of Biggie Smalls in City of Lies, new on Blu-ray. Here's our review!

THE SETUP

A driven LAPD detective (Johnny Depp) and a journalist (Forest Whitaker) team up to find the killer of rapper The Notorious B.I.G. Based on true events. Also stars Rockmond Dunbar. Directed by Brad Furman.

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THE DELIVERY

You are probably aware of the mystery surrounding the death of rapper Biggie Smalls, aka The Notorious B.I.G. You probably aren’t aware, however, of the true story of the investigation, which raised issues of corruption in the LAPD.

City of Lies is the first film that truly delves head-first into the investigation, and it’s a fascinating revelation of the facts surrounding the case. It’s bolstered by fantastic performances from Johnny Depp and Forest Whitaker, as well as a strong supporting cast.

While it’s a compelling film, as with any true-life story, it walks a fine line between dramatization and an adherence to the facts. The movie is based on Randall Sullivan’s book “LAbyrith,” and director Brad Furman took very little creative license with the story. That means there’s a lot of facts thrown at the viewer, and at times, it can be difficult to keep track of all the players.

After my second and third viewings, however, I found myself getting a better grasp of the narrative, and the motives began to make more sense. Credit to Furman and screenwriter Christian Contreras for staying faithful to the facts, and not over-simplifying the story.

However, this commitment to authenticity often brings the film down under the weight of detail. For a film with this subject matter, one would expect more of a Heat or JFK feel to convey the drama and present the theories. Instead, the movie often feels like an episode of Law and Order. The minutiae of the investigation overwhelms the drama at times, and some opportunities to deliver something special were missed.

The acting, however, is exceptional, even if the script doesn’t have the emotional impact you would hope for. Johnny Depp captures the dogged determination of Detective Russell Poole, who wanted to shine the light on the truth behind Biggie’s murder despite the pressure not to implicate the LAPD. It’s a great reminder of just how good of an actor Depp is. Roles like Jack Sparrow may define Depp’s public persona, but it’s films like this that deserve to be the measuring stick of who he is as an actor.

Whitaker brings an understated dignity to the role of journalist Jack Jackson, who stands in for the real-life writer Randall Sullivan. He brings the proper gravitas to the role, and his chemistry with Depp brings their many scenes together to a different level. His final scenes are incredibly moving. The stellar supporting cast is led by Shea Whigham (Perry Mason, Joker) and Dayton Callie (Fear the Walking Dead).

The film has been delayed since 2018, with reports speculating that it was due to Depp’s legal issues or even pressure from the LAPD. Ultimately, that doesn’t really matter: the film, and the performances, stand on their own, despite the behind-the-scenes drama.

While City of Lies doesn’t deliver the emotional knockout punch it should, the mere power of the subject matter and the performances make the film worthwhile. As I mentioned before, watching it more than once actually improves the viewing experience. Give the movie a chance. Give it two chances. It deserves it.

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VIDEO AND AUDIO

Director Brad Furman uses a variety of sources on his film to replicate the look of Los Angeles in 1997 and 2015, including 8mm film, 35mm film, video tape, and digital video, and the high-definition transfer renders them all well. The film features a mostly-desaturated color palette, with only some occasional pops of color. The film is presenting the seedy, weary underside of L.A., with lots of shadow, and it is faithfully captured here. Grays and blacks are consistent, and the detail is quite good for a Blu-ray.

The audio is a 5.1 DTS-HDMA mix, and features solid balance and clarity. The film itself doesn’t call for much in the way of surround effect and LFE, so don’t expect an auditory revelation here, but it does keep the dialogue sounding crystal-clear.

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SPECIAL FEATURES

There’s a handful of bonus features and a great commentary included on the Blu-ray.

The special features are:

Deleted Scenes. Seven deleted scenes are included: “Poole and Miller,” “Jackson at the Club,” “Detectives Divided,” “One Officer,” “A Lost Cause,” “Poole and Family,” and “Jackson Crosses the Line.” Scenes can be played individually or in a group. Total Running Time: 9:50

‘Crafting the Characters in City of Lies’ featurette. Director Brad Furman leads this featurette, which details how the story of Biggie Smalls’ murder investigation was brought to the screen. Johnny Depp is also interviewed, who provides some nice insight into his approach to the role of Detective Russell Poole. Running Time: 12:14

Audio Commentary. I highly recommend you listen to the commentary by director Furman and Randall Sullivan, who wrote the book “LAbyrinth.” The pair provides some excellent background into the story and how the film relates to the true events. Sullivan’s commentary is particularly insightful.

Digital Copy. A code for digital copy of the film is included. The code redeems on services like VUDU and FandangoNow, but does not redeem on Movies Anywhere.

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BLU-RAY SPECS

Release Date: June 8, 2021

Running Time: 112 minutes

Rating: R

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA

Subtitles: English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Spanish

Label: Lionsgate

MSRP: $21.99 (Blu-ray); $19.98 (DVD)

Click here to order City of Lies on Blu-ray from Amazon!