Some language in French, Japanese, German and Russian with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in the United States, France, Japan and Germany, the action film “John Wick: Chapter 4” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians and African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and criminal underground.
Culture Clash: Notorious mercenary John Wick fights several opponents in various countries, in order to be released from his servitude punishment from the High Table, a council of 12 crime lords who oversee the underworld’s most powerful criminal groups.
Culture Audience: “John Wick: Chapter 4” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “John Wick” franchise, star Keanu Reeves, and action-packed movies that can get very violent.
“John Wick: Chapter 4” is the most stunning and stylish-looking of the “John Wick” movies. Elaborate fight scenes are the movie’s biggest assets, but there’s also plenty of suspense, well-placed comedy and a meaningful story of humanity at the heart of this ultra-violent movie. “John Wick: Chapter 4” is an ending chapter of this franchise, but an end-credits scene in the movie hints that the saga will continue in another storyline.
Directed by Chad Stahelski, “John Wick: Chapter 4” was written by Shay Hatten and Michael Finch. The movie had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival. It’s an epic movie (with a total running time of 169 minutes) that is filled with adrenalin-pumping action that is never boring but can be overwhelming or offensive for people who have a low tolerance for violence in movies. At this point, most people who want to see a “John Wick” movie already that “John Wick” movies have a lot murders and mayhem. Everyone else should be prepared for ths onslaught.
It’s not necessary to see the previous “John Wick” movies, but it helps give better context to some of the relationships in the movie. The plot of “John Wick: Chapter 4” is fairly simple: Notorious mercenary John Wick (played by Keanu Reeves) fights several opponents in various countries, in order to be released from his servitude punishment from the High Table, a council of 12 crime lords who oversee the underworld’s most powerful criminal groups. The current leader of the table is a ruthless sadist named Marquis (played by Bill Skarsgård), who is based in Paris. Even among these criminals, there are rules and codes of conduct that must be followed.
John’s quest leads him from his native United States to various other countries, including Japan, France and Germany. Some of his allies can turn into enemies, while some of his enemies can turn into allies. The characters he encounters include Winston (played Ian McShane), owner of the Continental Hotel in New York City; Continental Hotel concierge Charon (played by Lance Reddick, who died on March 17, 2023, one week before the release date of “John Wick: Chapter 4”); and Bowery King (played by Laurence Fishburne), leader of the Soup Kitchen, a New York City-based underworld intelligence network that is disguised as a homeless shelter.
In “John Wick: Chapter 4,” John has two hit men who have been hired to kill him: blind assassin Caine (played by Donnie Yen) and bounty hunter Tracker (played by Shamier Anderson), who is accompanied by his loyal German Shepherd. While in Japan, John interacts with Shimazu (played by Hiroyuki Sanada), the manager of the Continental Hotel in Osaka, as well as Shimazu’s daughter Akira (played by Rina Sawayama), who is a high-ranking manager at the hotel. Also in the movie are a Russian mafia princess named Katia (played by Natalia Tena); Chidi (played by Marko Zaror), who is Marquis’ second-in-command henchman; and Harbinger (played by Clancy Brown), who is a high-ranking member of the High Table.
Visually, “John Wick: Chapter 4” is the most vibrant of the “John Wick” movies. Dan Laustsen’s exquisite cinematography has gorgeously rich hues and eye-popping camera angles. Some critics might argue that this movie makes violence took glamorous, but there’s no denying that “John Wick: Chapter 4” is an achievement in visual arts for action films. And let’s be clear: The movie has no ambiguity in rooting for who the “good” characters are.
“John Wick: Chapter 4” takes on many qualities of a comic book come to life, such as the way that word fonts look on screen, how the action scenes are choreographed, and the manner in which some of the villains are portrayed. (And to its detriment, “John Wick: Chapter 4” has very simplistic dialogue, similar to a comic book.) Scott Adkins plays a German crime boss named Killa (the leader of the High Table’s German operations), who is a character that looks like he was inspired by the Kingpin villain in Marvel Comics. Killa is a massive thug who wears a business suit and has gold-plated front teeth. You can imagine how those gold teeth will be used as comic relief in one of the fight scenes.
“John Wick: Chapter 4” certainly has some very cartoonish violence. However, the violence gets much more realistic in the last third of the movie. There’s an unusual and somewhat comedic action sequence involving a long flight of stairs that is sure to be one of the most memorable aspects of “John Wick: Chapter 4.” And the last 15 minutes of the movie just might make some viewers cry. “John Wick: Chapter 4” goes beyond what typical action movies do by not just offering unique fight scenes but also stirring up complex emotions for the main characters in ways that can be unexpected.
Lionsgate will release “John Wick: Chapter 4” in U.S. cinemas on March 24, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional city of Evans, Texas (and briefly in Dallas), the dramatic film “Bruiser” features a cast of African American, white and Latino characters representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A 14-year-old boy from a middle-class family is charmed into rebelling against his parents by a drifter in his 30s who has a criminal record and a connection to the boy’s past.
Culture Audience: “Bruiser” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching low-budget and capably made dramas that explore issues about father-son bonding, family trust and teen rebellion.
Troubled relationships between fathers and sons is not a new concept, but “Bruiser” presents it in a thoughtful and artistic way. Although this drama’s story has a big secret that’s easy to figure out, not everything in the movie is predictable. The movie excels in authentically portraying the vulnerabilities of teenagers looking for an identity and independence from family members, as well as how these family dynamics can quickly get messy from miscommunication.
“Bruiser” is the feature-film debut of Miles Warren, who based the movie on his short film of the same name. Warren and Ben Medina co-wrote the feature-length “Bruiser” screenplay. “Bruiser,” the first feature film from Disney-owned Onyx Collective, had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, followed by a U.S. premiere at AFI Fest in Los Angeles. It’s not a flashy movie, but it has a compelling, low-budget style that draws viewers into the world of the film’s characters that are realistically portrayed by a talented cast.
In “Bruiser,” the protagonist is 14-year-old Darious Garter (played by Jalyn Hall), who is in eighth grade at a private boarding school in Dallas called St. Andrew. It’s the type of school where the students are required to wear uniforms. Darious is quiet and somewhat introverted. He likes to draw and he has a relatively happy home life, until he meets someone who disrupts Darious’ perception of his family.
At the beginning of “Bruiser,” Darious is on a summer break from school. He has a sort-of girlfriend named Mia (played by Sarah Bock) who comes from a privileged family going to Greece for their summer vacation. Darious is on a financial scholarship to attend St. Andrew. His stepfather Malcolm Garter (played by Shamier Anderson) owns a car dealership called Garter Motors, where Malcolm is the chief salesperson. The dealership has been financially struggling, but Malcolm wants to keep it a secret from Darious and Darious’ mother Monica (played by Shinelle Azoroh), who’s a homemaker.
Monica is the one who picks up Darious from school to drive them back home to Evans, Texas, a rural suburb of Dallas. Darious is feeling restless because he prefers to live in a big city, and he’s already pining for Mia, whom he finds out later isn’t as into him as much as he’s into her. Monica cheerfully tells Darious on the ride back to their home, “Your father and I are so proud of you.”
Darious is mopey though, because he tells his mother that he’s going to be very bored in Evans on this summer vacation. During the ride home, Monica plays her favorite song: Otis Redding’s “Cigarettes and Coffee.” Darious teases his mother about how she always like to play that song, but she laughs off this good-natured ribbing and tells Darious that the song makes her feel happy. It won’t be the last time that “Cigarettes and Coffee” is heard in the movie, which uses the song as a symbol for conjuring up positive feelings.
Back at home, Darious is disappointed when he asks Malcolm if he can have a new bicycle, because he thinks his current bicycle is now too small for him. Malcolm firmly tells Darious no. Darious thinks Malcolm is being unreasonable. What Malcolm doesn’t tell Darious is that he can’t afford to give Darious a new bicycle.
Malcolm soon gets some bad news that he also keeps a secret from Darious and Monica: A St. Andrew school official has called and told Malcolm that Darious’ financial-aid scholarship is being cancelled. Ever the salesman, Malcolm urges the school to seek out other options and says that he expects the school to “make it work” so that Darious (who is a good student) can continue to attend the school on a scholarship.
It’s never been a secret that Malcolm is not Darious’ biological father, but Malcolm is the only father whom Darious has ever known. Darious’ biological father, who abandoned Monica while she was pregnant with Darious, has not been in Darious life ever since. Malcolm and Monica got married not long after Darious was born. Malcolm’s parenting style is loving but strict and stubborn and sometimes quick-tempered, while Monica tends to be more of a calm peacemaker who’s willing to listen and negotiate during a dispute.
Darious tries to reconnect with his hometown friends, but he doesn’t feel as close to them as he used to be. He’s still on good terms with a platonic pal named June (played by Ava Ryback), but Darious starts to have problems with a slightly older teen named Jason (played by Gavin Munn), who’s in the same clique as June. The movie has some subtle and not-so-subtle indications about social-class prejudices, because Darious doesn’t think that that his hometown friends are interesting or sophisticated as his friends at the boarding school.
One day, while hanging out in a woodsy area, Jason starts playfully roughhousing with Darious. The roughhousing turns into a full-on assault, with Jason beating up Darious for no good reason. However, it’s fairly obvious that Jason is jealous that Darious goes to a boarding school, but Jason doesn’t want to admit that to anyone.
A humiliated Darious runs away to a stream to clean up his bloodied face. Near this stream, he encounters a guy living in the houseboat that belonged to a wealthy man in the area named Mr. John. The stranger, who is in his 30s, starts talking to Darious, introduces himself as Porter (played by Trevante Rhodes), and asks Darious who his father is. When Darious tells him, Porter has a look of recognition on his face and says that he knows Malcolm because they both used to work for Mr. John, who committed suicide.
Porter also notices the injuries on Darious’ face and asks what happened. When Darious tells him, Porter advises Darious to learn how to physically fight back against bullies. Porter wonders out loud to Darious what kind of father Malcolm is if Malcolm hasn’t taught Darious how to defend himself in a fight. It’s a foreshadowing of some of the conflicts to come between Porter and Malcolm.
It should come as no surprise that Porter is far from being a role model. He’s living on the houseboat illegally after leaving Las Vegas under suspicious circumstance. And he has a violent and shady past. However, Darious doesn’t know all of that when he first meets Porter, so Darious is intrigued by this tattooed stranger.
During their first meeting, Darious calls Porter “weird.” But over time, as Darious starts to become emotionally distant from Malcolm, Darious seeks out Porter’s company. And it isn’t long before Darious starts calling Porter “cool.”
Porter and Malcolm really do know each other but haven’t seen each other in years. It’s for the most obvious reason possible. Darious eventually finds out this “secret” and discovers that Malcolm wasn’t quite the upstanding citizen that he is now.
Much of “Bruiser” is about the tug-of-war between Porter and Malcolm, as they compete for Darious’ respect, time and attention. Some of this conflict gets very repetitive in the movie, but the pacing and plot developments do a very good job on effectively increasing the tension. It should come as no surprise that things between Porter and Malcolm get worse, with Darious caught in the middle.
One of the best things about “Bruiser” is how it realistically shows that these characters are not stereotypes. There are no absolute “heroes” or “villains” in the story of these feuding men. Porter does a lot of irresponsible things and has a violent past, but he has a noble motive for wanting to be in Malcolm’s life and to prove that he’s not the criminal that he used to be.
Malcolm is a very responsible parent, but his ultra-competitiveness with Porter makes Malcolm lose control and do some irrational things too. Monica tries to be a mediator in the increasingly hostile disputes between Malcolm and Porter. Ultimately, she’s completely loyal to Malcolm.
And where does that leave Darious? Feeling like underage teens often feel: Old enough to make his own decisions but too young to legally be out of his parents’ control. It leads to an emotionally volatile showdown that viewers will see coming, but how it all ends in the movie might not be what most viewers will expect.
Warren’s direction shows that he has a keen eye for casting the right people and allowing time for viewers to get to know the characters in an immersive way. The movie’s dialogue can be a tad simplistic, but it works as well as it does because the actors embody their characters in a way that’s utterly believable. Hall, Anderson and Rhodes give “Bruiser” the spirited energy of portraying two strong-willed men and an impressionable teenage boy who are all battling in some way with insecurities, macho bravado, and what their definitions are to be men.
Most of all, it’s a movie that succeeds in depicting gritty realism and rosy optimism in how people judge what it mean to be redeemable. “Bruiser” doesn’t offer any easy answers. The movie shows how destructive cycles can be difficult to break when they involve several people. But the movie also sends a clear message about the power of individual responsibility and how someone else’s past shouldn’t completely define it.
Onyx Collective released “Bruiser” in select U.S. cinemas for a limited one-week engagement on December 2, 2022. “Bruiser” will premiere on Hulu in the U.S., Star+ in Latin America, and Disney+ in all other territories on February 24, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the comedy/drama film “A Lot of Nothing” features a racially diverse cast of characters (African American, white and some Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: An African American husband and wife, who both work for the same law firm, kidnap and hold their white neighbor captive in their home after the spouses find out that he’s the cop who’s in the news for killing an unarmed young man.
Culture Audience: “A Lot of Nothing” will appeal mainly to people who think they are supporting a Black Lives Matter advocacy movie, but this horrendous misfire is anything but supportive of civil rights and positive portrayals of black people.
A complete tonal mess, the comedy/drama “A Lot of Nothing” makes a disgusting mockery of the Black Lives Matter movement and insults African American women the most. Apparently, the filmmakers think the best way for black people to fight racism is to become criminals and perpetuate racist stereotypes. If this trashy movie wanted to be a satire, it demolishes any credibility because it can’t decide if it wants to be an absurd farce or a serious thriller. Worst of all, it takes real-life trauma that families and other loved ones experience because of unjustified killings committed by cops, and uses this trauma as a gimmicky plot device, just so the filmmakers could get a cash grab out of this heinous movie. “A Lot of Nothing” had its world premiere at the 2022 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.
The fact that “A Lot of Nothing” was directed by an African American (Mo McRae) does not excuse the utter depths of stupidity where this movie goes when it comes to exploiting these real-life tragedies. McRae wrote the abysmal screenplay for “A Lot of Nothing” with Sarah Kelly Kaplan. And they both seem to have particular contempt for black women, because of how black women are portrayed in this movie. That’s because out of all the dimwitted characters in “A Lot of Nothing,” the black women characters are the dumbest and the flakiest.
The moronic story of “A Lot of Nothing,” which takes place in Los Angeles, is that an African American married couple named James (played by Y’lan Noel) and Vanessa (played by Cleopatra Coleman)—who both work at the same law firm—kidnap and hold captive a white cop named Brian Stanley (played by Justin Hartley), who happens to be their next-door neighbor. Brian is divorced and lives alone, so there’s no one in his house who immediately notices that he’s missing when he’s kidnapped from his home. James is a lawyer, while Vanessa (who has an MBA degree) is some kind of business manager at the law firm.
What would cause this highly educated, upper-middle-class, respectable couple to commit such a drastic crime? Vanessa is angrily triggered because she saw on the news that Brian is under investigation for the shooting death of an unarmed, young adult man, who was killed during a traffic stop. Some of this incident was captured on video footage that went viral on the Internet and was shown on TV. Brian has been put on leave from his job, pending the investigation.
Before the kidnapping takes place, Vanessa rants to James in their home about how she’s tired of hearing about cops killing innocent black people. James tells Vanessa repeatedly that they need to hear all the facts of this case before they jump to conclusions. But that doesn’t stop Vanessa from obsessing over the idea that she needs to lecture and interrogate Brian about what happened, as if she’s a prosecutor questioning him during a trial. She marches over to Brian’s house and demands that he talk to her and explain what happened during the shooting. Brian doesn’t want to talk to her, but she insists.
As someone who’s married to a lawyer and as a business manager who works for a law firm, Vanessa should know that Brian is probably under an attorney’s orders not to talk about the investigation to anyone without an attorney present. As a black woman (and as a human being who should have common sense), Vanessa should also know how stupid it is to pick a fight with a cop who’s under investigation for shooting and killing an unarmed person. The filmmakers of “A Lot of Nothing” don’t care, because they want to make Vanessa the worst stereotype of an angry black woman.
Brian’s response to Vanessa’s hostile confrontation? He tells her: “As an officer of the law, I suggest you take your high yellow ass back to your nice little house and drop it.” That racist remark is enough for Vanessa to later go over to Brian’s house with a gun, while James is trying to smooth things over with Brian. Vanessa wants to provoke a racist cop, and apparently doesn’t care about making things worse, and possibly doing something that could get people killed.
Vanessa pulls a gun on Brian, forces him into the couple’s garage, and orders James to tie up Brian. James is shocked and horrified. At first, James objects to Vanessa’s unhinged actions, but then he reluctantly goes along with this idiotic abduction and the rest of the crimes that Vanessa wants to commit in the name of Black Lives Matter. In other words, the movie is saying that educated black people with no criminal records are actually irrational, violent criminals who’ll use any racial excuse to commit crimes, thereby embodying the worst stereotypes that racists have of black people.
Vanessa is such an obnoxious lunatic, she commits this cop kidnapping less than an hour before James’ brother Jamal (payed by Shamier Anderson) and his pregnant fiancée Candy (played by Lex Scott Davis) are due to arrive for a family dinner. Candy and Jamal show up, find out about the kidnapping, and participate in the crime too. Jamal turns into a thug, while Candy is an airhead who spouts a lot of New Age gibberish.
There’s really no point in describing this awful movie anymore, except to say that the movie’s writing and direction are trash; the pacing is erratic; and all the cast members’ performances get worse as the story goes down a steep slide into a putrid abyss of racial hatred that’s hell-bent on making black people look as bad as possible. The movie ends with a “reveal” that just makes everyone involved look even more insanely stupid, with no real consequences. “A Lot of Nothing” is really just a lot of nonsense and a worthless train wreck that should be avoided at all costs.
UPDATE: RLJE Films will release “A Lot of Nothing” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on February 3, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the dramatic film “City of Lies” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, African American and a few Latinos) representing middle-class citizens, law enforcement and the criminal underground.
Culture Clash: A bitter former Los Angeles police detective joins forces with a TV journalist to try to solve the 1997 murder of rapper The Notorious B.I.G., also known as Biggie Smalls.
Culture Audience: “City of Lies” will appeal primarily to people interested in the Notorious B.I.G. murder case or movies about true crime, but the movie drags with a sluggish pace and mediocre performances.
The life and murder of The Notorious B.I.G., also known as Biggie Smalls, has turned into a cottage industry for filmmakers, since there have been several documentaries and narrative feature films about the rapper, who was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles on March 9, 1997. The same could be said of the numerous movies about rapper Tupac Shakur, who died in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas on September 13, 1996. Both murders are speculated to be linked to each other, and these two murder cases remain unsolved. The dramatic film “City of Lies” (directed by Brad Furman) focuses on the Biggie Smalls murder case in such a lukewarm and unremarkable way that people will be better off watching any of the several documentaries about the same subject.
The troubled behind-the-scenes story of “City of Lies” is actually more interesting than the movie itself. “City of Lies” was originally supposed to be released in 2018, but the movie’s release was abruptly cancelled by then-distributor Global Road Entertainment, formerly known as Open Road Films. The company was sued by Bank Leumi, which loaned $32 million to make the movie and wanted the money back since the movie’s release was cancelled. In a separate lawsuit, “City of Lies” star Johnny Depp was sued by the movie’s former location manager Gregg “Rocky” Brooks, who claimed that Depp assaulted him on the set of “City of Lies.”
Global Road filed for bankruptcy in 2018, thereby shielding the company from debt collectors. As of this writing, Brooks’ lawsuit against Depp is pending. [UPDATE: In July 2022, Brooks lawsuit against Depp was settled out of court.] Open Road Films was revived in 2019 under new ownership. Meanwhile, “City of Lies” was shelved until Saban Films purchased the rights to the movie and released the movie in 2021.
It’s easy to see why “City of Lies” wasn’t considered a priority release by its original distributors. It isn’t a terrible film, but it’s a terribly monotonous one, with lackluster acting and tacky re-enactments of over-recycled theories about Biggie Smalls’ murder. “City of Lies” throws in some unnecessary fictional characters to bring more drama to the story. Christian Contreras wrote the “City of Lies” screenplay, which is based on Randall Sullivan’s 2002 non-fiction book “LAbryinth.”
The movie, just like the book, takes the angle that former Los Angeles Police Department detective Russell Poole (played by Depp) had the most plausible theory that Smalls was murdered by corrupt LAPD cops who were working as off-duty security for Marion “Suge” Knight, the founder of Death Row Records. Knight and Death Row (which was the Los Angeles-based record label that Shakur was signed to when he was murdered) were involved in a bitter East Coast vs. West Coast rivalry with Sean Combs, the founder of the New York City-based Bad Boy Entertainment. The Notorious B.I.G. (a Brooklyn, New York native whose real name was Christopher Wallace) was signed to Bad Boy. The media often made it look like The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur were enemies, when the two rappers actually were friends early on in their careers until their record label bosses started feuding with each other.
“City of Lies” opens with a scene that takes place on March 18, 1997, in North Hollywood, California. An undercover LAPD cop named Frank Lyga (played by Shea Whigham) gets into a road-rage incident with a guy in a SUV over the type of music that is loudly playing in the SUV while both are stopped next to each other at a traffic light. There are racial undertones in their argument because Lyga is white and the other driver is African American.
The SUV driver starts to threaten Frank and chase after him in the car. During this car chase, Lyga shoots and kills the other motorist, who crashes his SUV into another car. It turns out that the other driver was also an undercover LAPD cop. His name was Kevin Gaines (played by Amin Joseph), and his alleged connection to the Biggie Smalls murder case is explained later in the movie for people who don’t know already.
Poole is called to the scene of Gaines’ death. Lyga claims he killed Gaines in self-defense. But in the wake of the 1992 riots over the Rodney King trial verdict, the LAPD does not want a repeat of these riots. Gaines’ family files a $25 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles. This lawsuit might or might not have affected how the LAPD investigated Gaines’ alleged involvement in the Biggie Smalls murder.
It’s not the best way to start off “City of Lies,” which is mostly about how retired LAPD detective Poole teamed up with a TV news journalist named Darius “Jack” Jackson (played by Forest Whitaker) in 2015 to re-examine the Biggie Smalls murder case. Poole left the LAPD in 1999 to start his own private detective agency, where he continued to investigate the Biggie Smalls murder. Although most of the characters in “City of Lies” are based on real people and the characters keep the names of their real-life counterparts, Jackson is a fictional character who works for the fictional American World Network, which is supposed to be like CNN.
Jackson is a character fabricated for this movie so that he can be a sounding board for Poole’s theories and so that Jackson can do a lot of the legwork of investigating that Poole might not be able to do because of Poole’s alienation from the LAPD. Jackson seeks out Poole at Poole’s cluttered and dingy apartment/home office because Jackson is doing a retrospective special on the Notorious B.I.G. and he wants to possibly interview Poole for it. When Jackson arrives unannounced at Poole’s apartment, he finds the door unlocked and enters. The unlocked door is a small detail that doesn’t ring true, considering that the movie goes out its way throughout the story to show how paranoid Poole is.
Poole surprises Jackson by pulling a gun on him. It didn’t help that Jackson showed up unannounced. After the former cop sees that Jackson isn’t a threat, Jackson explains why he’s there and reminds Poole that he actually interviewed Poole years before, for a documentary called “East vs. West,” about the 1990s East Coast/West Coast rap rivalry. Jackson proudly mentions that the documentary won a Peabody Award, but Poole isn’t impressed.
Poole, who is divorced and lives by himself, has his apartment walls covered in clippings and other items related to Biggie Smalls and the unsolved murder. In conversations with Jackson, it becomes very apparent that Poole has been so obsessed with the case, it’s cost him his job at the LAPD (he quit under a cloud of discontent after being suspended) and he lost his family over it. Poole’s wife divorced him, and he is estranged from his son Russell Poole Jr. (played by Joshua M. Hardwick), who is a minor league baseball player.
Sure enough, this hackneyed movie has a subplot of Poole pining for his lost relationship with his son. There’s a scene of him watching Russell Jr. during baseball practice, but keeping his distance because there’s too much bad blood between them. Jackson is with Poole as they watch Russell Jr. in the stands.
There are also a few flashbacks to Poole and his son in happier times when Russell Jr. was a 6-year-old child (played by Antonio Raul Corbo) and they did father-son activities, such as fishing. Poole also has an adult daughter (played by Ashleigh Biller), who isn’t even given a name in the movie. Meanwhile, the movie never shows anything about Jackson’s home life.
“City of Lies” goes back and forth between showing how Poole was on the original LAPD investigation team in the Biggie Smalls murder case in 1997, and how he’s still investigating the case as an under-funded private detective in 2015. Poole was also part of the internal affairs investigation over the 1997 shooting death of LAPD police officer Gaines by fellow LAPD cop Lyga. “City of Lies” references the LAPD Ramparts scandal, which involved some of the same cops who were connected to the Biggie Smalls murder. One of those cops was Rafael Pérez (played by Neil Brown Jr.), who was accused of being a member of the Bloods, a gang affiliated with Death Row founder Knight.
Other LAPD characters in the story who worked on the Biggie Smalls murder case in the late 1990s include Detective Fred Miller (played by Toby Huss), who was Russell’s closest co-worker on the case, and Detective Varney (played by Michael Paré), who gets scolded by Miller for saying that Biggie Smalls was behind Tupac Shakur’s murder. Other law enforcement officials who are part of the story include City Attorney Stone (played by Louis Herthum) and FBI Agent Dunton (played by Laurence Mason), who is undercover as a street thug connected to Death Row chief Knight. The movie is a bit heavy-handed in depicting Poole as the only LAPD cop willing to take down some of his colleagues if he thought they were murderers in cases that he was investigating.
In 2015, the LAPD cops that Jackson has to deal with include Commander Fasulo (played by Peter Greene) and Lieutenant O’Shea (played by Dayton Callie). These cops have written off Poole as a crazy loose cannon. However, Jackson isn’t so sure, and he begins to believe that Poole could be right about the LAPD being involved in some kind of cover-up to protect corrupt cops who might have been involved in the murder.
If you believe the main theory presented in the movie, a rogue LAPD cop named David Mack, nicknamed D-Mack (played by Shamier Anderson), was one of the key people with direct knowledge of the Biggie Smalls murder. Mack’s involvement is a theory that has already been widely reported, but it won’t be revealed in this review, since some people watching the movie might not know the theory. In real life, Mack was arrested and sentenced to 14 years in prison for a December 1997 bank robbery of $722,000 in Los Angeles. The bank robbery is re-enacted in the movie.
Just as Poole ran into problems with his superiors for believing that the Biggie Smalls murder was a conspiracy among corrupt LAPD cops working for Knight, so too does Jackson get pushback from his boss named Edwards (played by Xander Berkeley) because Jackson wants to present this theory in the TV special. Jackson getting stonewalled by his boss is somewhat of an unbelievable part of the movie, because this theory was widely reported long before 2015, so Jackson really wouldn’t be reporting anything new. In the world of “City of Lies,” viewers are supposed to forget all of that and believe that Jackson will be breaking this news on TV for the very first time.
“City of Lies” includes cheesy re-enactments (some parts in slow-motion) of the Biggie Smalls murder, which happened after he left a Soul Train Music Awards after-party at the Petersen Automotive Museum. He was a passenger in a SUV that was at a stoplight when he was shot by someone in a car that pulled up to the SUV. The role of Biggie Smalls is played by Jamal Woolard, who’s played the rapper in multiple films, including the 2009 biopic “Notorious.” An eyewitness named Tyrell (played by Dominique Columbus), a character fabricated for the movie, is interviewed in 1997 flashback scenes.
And just so the audience knows that “City of Lies” was approved by the family of Biggie Smalls/Christopher Wallace, his mother Voletta Wallace (portraying herself) has a cameo in a scene where she meets with Poole and Jackson in a diner. She thanks Poole and Jackson for clearing her son’s name when there were rumors that The Notorious B.I.G. was involved in the murder of Tupac Shakur. The only purpose of this scene is so people see that Voletta Wallace considered Poole to be an ally when it came to investigating the murder of Biggie Smalls.
“City of Lies” is very much told from Poole’s perspective, because the flow of the movie is frequently interrupted by his voiceover narration where he spouts some hokey lines. After the opening scene where Poole is called to the scene of LAPD officer Gaines’ death, Poole says in a voiceover about Gaines’ death and Biggie Smalls’ death: “I didn’t connect the two at first, but when I did, I lost everything that mattered. That day, on that street corner, the labyrinth opened.”
Later in the movie, Poole says in retrospect of how the LAPD was investigating Gaines’ death: “The ghost of Rodney King was still haunting the city, so there was only one way this was going to end. I was the only idiot to think otherwise.” When Poole and Jackson meet in Poole’s apartment for the first time, Jackson asks Poole directly: “Who shot Christopher Wallace?” Poole replies: “I don’t know. I had a theory, and my investigation was ripped out from under me.”
You get the idea. “City of Lies” is about portraying Poole as a noble but very flawed martyr for his theory. The problem is in the the way it’s presented in “City of Lies,” which oversimplifies things and makes it look like Poole is the only person who had this theory and the only one to uncover key evidence in this theory. But by his own admission, what he uncovered wasn’t enough to solve the murder.
By the time Jackson meets Poole in Poole’s apartment, the former cop is jaded and distrustful, but Jackson’s interest in the case seems to renew Poole’s spirit and he gradually learns to trust Jackson. But the movie also spends a lot of time on flashbacks of Poole working on the case in 1997, and Jackson retracing Poole’s investigative steps instead of trying to look at other theories too. It’s lazy journalism that shouldn’t be glorified in a movie.
Depp and Whitaker have a lot of talent in other films. Unfortunately, they aren’t very interesting together in “City of of Lies.” The direction of the movie makes everything look fake. The actors playing cops look like actors, not cops.
And some of the re-creations of people in the rap music industry look awkward, as if these scenes were created by people who only know about hip-hop culture from watching music videos. When the release of “City of Lies” was originally cancelled in 2018, movie audiences didn’t seem to know or care that much. And now that “City of Lies” is available, it’s easy to see why this movie is so inconsequential and forgettable.
Saban Films released “City of Lies” in select U.S. cinemas on March 19, 2021. The movie’s release date on digital and VOD is April 9, 2021.