Real-life LAPD Detective Russell Poole was obsessed with the truth. He spent his whole life solving the murder of famous rapper, Christopher Wallace aka Notorious B.I.G. Ace actor Johnny Depp gives life to Russell Poole in Brad Furman’s film, City of Lies.
City of Lies is based on the accounts of journalist Randall Sullivan’s non-fiction novel, LAbyrinth. In real life, Sullivan interviewed retired Poole that became the source material for his controversial book. While many deny the statements disclosed by Sullivan and Poole in the book, director Brad Furman found a story in Poole’s controversial plight.
Without confirming any theories, City of Lies solely follows Russell Poole and his obsession with the case. The exploration does unravel some shocking truths, but in the end, they were all allegations made by Poole. They thus should be perceived as a character’s viewpoint rather than factual truth.
Disclaimer: All statements made in the article are based on the film and are for entertainment purposes only.
‘City of Lies’ Plot Summary
In 1997, LAPD detective Russell Poole (Johnny Depp) investigated a road rage incident where an undercover detective, Frank Lyga, shot a Black officer Kevin Gaines. Gaines pulled off a gun on Frank and threatened to shoot him when Frank shot him first in self-defense. However, the media saw it as another act of a Racist Cop. The case opened the first door to the labyrinth in Poole’s life as he tried to solve the riddle,
“White Guy shoots and kills a Black Guy. Who’s at fault?”Russell Poole
Nine days before Frank’s road rage accident, American Rapper, Christopher Wallace aka Notorious B.I.G., was shot 6 six times on the street. Many conspiracy theorists held Notorious B.I.G. responsible for the murder of Tupac Shakur, another famous rapper who was hit four times.
Eighteen years later, neither Notorious B.I.G.’s nor Tupac’s murder has been solved, and Poole is still struggling to find substantial evidence. Why? Poole felt Biggie’s mother has lost a family member, and she deserves to have answers. In the current timeline, Poole teams up with journalist Darius Jackson (Forest Whitaker) to solve the murder of Notorious B.I.G.
Death Row and its LAPD involvement – Theorized by Russell Poole
According to Poole, in 1991, after the racial killing of Rodney King, Rapper Tupac gave a poetic voice to the rebellion and to the rebellious generation. His creativity was cashed in on by L.A.-based rap label Death Row Records, owned by the infamous Suge Knight.
A rapper with a smooth flow on the East Coast rose to prominence and built a brand for the New York label Bad Boy Records. Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. were professional rivals and also had a feud between them. When Tupac was hit four times, many of his fans and the most loyal Death Row Records blamed Biggie for orchestrating the shootout.
Poole claimed that Suge Knight, head of Death Row Records, was a gang member who played by street rules. In City of Lies, special agent Terrence Watts from the F.B.I. infiltrated Death Row and heard rumors that it has LAPD working for its inner circle. Officer Gaines, shot by Frank, was one of them, the case Poole was already investigating.
The Three Stained Hands of LAPD
Poole had doubts about LAPD’s involvement in Christopher Wallace’s murder. His theory got confirmed when he found out about Officer Gaines and his association with Death Row.
Later, in November 1997, LAPD officer David Mack robbed a bank. Special Agent Dunton from the F.B.I. dug up a lead and raided Mack’s house party. Poole found three prominent shreds of evidence at his house, GECOs 9mm bullets (shots fired at Wallace), spare walkie-talkie (that helped to coordinate Wallace’s murder), and Chevy Impala S.S. in the garage. Poole also witnessed Tupac’s painting on a wall at Mack’s house that portrayed Tupac as a deity. It suggested Mack’s divine loyalty towards the rapper.
The investigation established Mack, aka D-Mack’s association with Death Row Records. However, Poole was never allowed to forensic Mack’s Chevy Impala SS. LAPD tried its best to hamper Poole’s investigation and disregarded his theory that connected LAPD and Wallace’s murder.
Poole’s seniors compelled him to drop the Death Row Pursuit. They assigned him a new job to investigate cocaine bags disappearing from the evidence room. While everyone suspected Frank Lyga, Poole’s investigation revealed the third tainted cop in the LAPD who worked for Death Row.
Officer Rafa Perez partnered with D-Mack and committed a bank robbery. Poole arrested Rafa, and he revealed straight-on that he worked for Suge.
“Law enforcement is made up of cops. And a cop isn’t anything but a man. There has never been one that can overcome man’s nature.”
Rampart – The End to Poole’s Investigation
After Rafa Perez’s arrest, Poole believed that he would confess his part in the LAPD’s corruption by saying just two words, “Death Row.” However, the insiders diverted the scandal to Rampart, which is considered the greatest scandal in LAPD’s history, and implicated 70 cops of corruption. However, according to Poole, Rampart was a diversion to hide the sins of LAPD and its association with Death Row or involvement in Wallace’s murder. Why?
The future earning potential of Christopher Wallace would be over a billion at the time of the investigation. So if Poole had proved a link between a cop and Biggie’s murder, then a lawsuit by Wallace’s family would not have only broken the LAPD but also would have bankrupted the city. Poole was playing with fire, and his investigation would have gaslighted the whole town. LAPD tried its best to eclipse the matter. Poole was told not to look further.
Poole Final Theory on Wallace’s Murder
Poole’s theory was that LAPD cops helped orchestrate the murder of Christopher Wallace. His two main suspects were incarcerated officers David Mack and Rafa Perez.
On the night of Wallace’s Murder, an eyewitness saw David Mack dressed as security at Soul Train Awards AfterParty event. He was talking on a walkie-talkie, informing someone about Wallace’s departure from Peterson. Soon after, Wallace’s car was boxed in by two vehicles at the signal. Biggie was shot from GECOs 9mm bullets by a man sitting inside a black sedan, probably, Chevy Impala S.S. The police didn’t find any mobile signals on the spot because the murderers were most probably communicating through a walkie-talkie.
Earlier in the film, Poole’s partner, Detective Fred Miller, informed Jackson that during his time in prison, David Mack got only one visitor, Amir Muhammed. An informant, Mike, who Miller placed in Suge Knight’s cell, told Miller and Poole that Suge didn’t want to see Bad Boys (Wallace record label) rise up, and hence Biggie got shot. According to Mike, Suge hired a contract killer, Amir Muhammed and D-Mack (David Mack), to kill Wallace. However, Amir was never arrested, and LAPD shunned D-Mack’s involvement with Dead Row. Hence, at the end of City of Lies, Poole and Jack only met with dead ends.
‘City of Lies’ Ending Explained
Poole didn’t retire but resigned from LAPD and continued his investigation around Wallace’s case. He also helped Wallace’s mother to frame a case against LAPD, but it was tossed. A federal judge caught LAPD hiding the evidence linking Mack and Perez to Wallace’s murder and declared a mistrial. The city of L.A. reopened the case that gave the power to withheld the evidence that suggested their involvement in the felony. As a result, Mrs. Wallace and Poole weren’t able to sue LAPD until the case was open.
In the end, Jackson told Poole about LAPD investigating Mack’s Impala according to his theory. The revelation gave new hope to Poole, who thought of reopening the case. But Jackson had a contradictory thought.
Poole was gravely affected by Wallace’s murder and in the process, he lost touch with his family. Jackson told him to close the case once for all and find closure in his life, but Poole wasn’t ready to do so. He was concerned about Mrs. Wallace and was obsessed with finding the truth. Poole went to an L.A. sheriff’s department to reopen his investigation but suffered a heart attack. He died after that.
Out of guilt, Jackson wrote an article about Russell Poole declaring him as a forgotten hero. The article was published on the front page of the L.A. Times, and Jackson’s efforts were lauded. However, he soon left his job, finding the system too hypocritical to celebrate worthy men like Poole.
The murder of Christopher Wallace and Tupac Shakur remains unsolved.
City of Lies is a 2018 Crime Thriller film based on true events. The film was released in 2021. It is directed by Brad Furman and is based on the non-fiction book LAbyrinth written by journalist Randall Sullivan. It stars Johnny Depp in the lead role.