‘Misbegotten mush’: Critics are torn over Johnny Depp’s ‘City of Lies,’ give both praise and shade

“City of Lies” has finally hit theaters and critics are torn.. 

The film was originally set to premiere in 2018, but was delayed after the film’s star Johnny Depp’s legal melee with both ex-wife Amber Heard and a UK tabloid. The movie released Friday and critics either thought it was worth the wait or a waste of time. 

“City of Lies” is a crime film based on the book “LAbyrinth” by Randall Sullivan. The film starring Depp and Forest Whitaker is a modern whodunnit surrounding the murder mystery investigation of rappers Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. Depp plays the role of LAPD detective Russell Poole who is trying to figure out the truth behind these high-profile murders.

Johnny Depp arrives at the High Court in London, Tuesday, July 21, 2020. (Photo: Alastair Grant, AP)

The Hollywood Reporter’s John Defoe thought “City of Angels” deserved more attention from the public because of the big picture issues it brings to light, despite theproblems Depp faced in his private life. He mentioned how the film brought real-life concerns to how murders of Black victims deny justice by going unsolved. 

“A viewer would have to be pretty complacent (or know a lot more about the case than this film explains) not to leave ‘Lies’ feeling that the Wallace case is a shameful — and still fixable, to some extent — example of justice denied,” DeFoe wrote. “And if truth can be swept under the rug in such a high-profile murder, what about killings of people nobody knows?”

Deadline’s Pete Hammond agreed with DeFoe on the film being worth the wait, but only from a performance standpoint. 

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“City of Lies is worth seeing not only for a measured and unaffected turn by Depp as Russell Poole,” Hammond wrote. “But also for Whitaker’s understated and well-pitched portrayal of a journalist trying to escape his own checkered past by also getting to the bottom of what really happened.”

However some critics couldn’t get over Depp’s private issues to fully appreciate his role as Poole.  

“It’s one of the few post-Jack Sparrow performances that makes you mourn what the back nine of Depp’s career might have given us if not for his method-worthy commitment to public disgrace,” David Erlich of IndieWire wrote. 

And as for other critics, the movie was just sad … and confusing. 

The New York Times’ Jeannette Catsoulis called the movie “misbegotten mush.”

“ ‘City of Lies’ has an underlying, unexpected poignancy. The look is grimy and the atmosphere is grim; but what could have been a moody character study or a taut conspiracy thriller is instead a dreary procedural, a misbegotten mush of flashbacks, voice-overs and dead ends,” Catsoulis writes. 

Peter Debruge writes this for Variety: “ ‘City of Lies’ revels in the complexity of the whole mess (Sullivan’s book was called ‘LAbyrinth’ after all), skipping around in time and making things more confusing than they have to be.”

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