City of Lies Parent Guide
An intriguing true crime story, this profanity-laden film is too raw for family audiences.
Parent Movie Review
With hip-hop at a peak in the late 1990s, escalating feuds between famous rappers are an item of national attention. That focus becomes more intense with the murders of Tupac Shakur in Las Vegas in 1996 and The Notorious B.I.G. (aka Biggie, real name Christopher Wallace) in 1997, which shake the country’s music scene. But as the L.A.P.D. investigation into Wallace’s death drags on, Detective Russell Poole (Johnny Depp) finds growing resistance to his inquiries and he comes to believe that corrupt officers in his own department have been involved in the shooting. Issues of race, corruption, and political intrigue conspire to stall his investigation for decades… until he meets Jack Jackson, a journalist who is nearly as obsessed with the case as he is. Even with help, going up against the L.A.P.D. isn’t going to be easy.
True crime tends to bother me. I dislike sensationalizing the suffering of victims and their families for the purposes of idle entertainment. In this case, however, I have less of an issue. Firstly, because the film’s primary goal is exposing corruption and inaction in the police department; not exploiting unlawful deaths. Secondly, Biggie’s mother, Voletta Wallace, appears in the movie as herself. If she’s ok with this depiction of the investigation of her son’s murder, then I don’t have an issue.
Not that the movie is flawless. Especially early on, the dialogue is clunky, and the narrative gets muddy and confused as it skips around different time frames. Family audiences will object to the flood of profanity, which while accurate for both police and gangsters, is not palatable for a less hardened audience. At 109 sexual expletives, the bad language will discourage a lot of people who might otherwise be interested in the story. On the other hand, the film avoids most of the sex and graphic violence associated with crime thrillers, which is a pleasant surprise.
With strong character acting and a very compelling, labyrinthine investigation into the very heart of the Los Angeles police, City of Lies is surprisingly effective. After the first half hour or so, the film finds its legs and takes off. The pacing is brisk, and the twists and turns in the investigation are all the more intriguing because this is based on real life; not the fevered imagination of a screenwriter. While this certainly isn’t a movie for younger audiences, older teens and adults are likely to enjoy this descent into corruption, murder, and of course, 90’s gang culture. But who really killed Christopher Wallace? The case remains unsolved…officially, at least.Directed by Brad Furman. Starring Johnny Depp, Forest Whitaker, and Toby Huss. Running time: 112 minutes. Theatrical release April 9, 2021. Updated April 10, 2021
Watch the trailer for City of Lies
City of Lies
Rating & Content Info
Why is City of Lies rated R? City of Lies is rated R by the MPAA for language throughout, some violence and drug use.
Violence: Several individuals are shot and killed. One man is beaten to death in gang-related violence. Real news footage from the period shows riots, police brutality, and other violence.
Sexual Content: Some scenes depict scantily clad women dancing in a club, but no nudity is seen.
Profanity: There are 109 uses of sexual expletives, 37 uses of scatological profanity, frequent use of racial slurs, and occasional mild profanities and terms of deity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Adults are shown drinking and smoking. One individual is briefly shown smoking marijuana. Other drugs are seen in police evidence but are not seen being used.
Page last updated April 10, 2021
City of Lies Parents' Guide
Police corruption is particularly difficult to eradicate. Why is that? What do you think departments could do to keep better control over their officers? This movie was originally slated for release in 2018. Has the public perception of police changed since then? How? Is this movie still relevant in light of those changes?