City of Lies and its ending shine a light on the unsolved murder of rapper the Notorious B.I.G., a.k.a. Christopher Wallace, and the ways in which the Los Angeles police department was likely involved. Just with the timeline of actual events, City of Lies ends on a devastating note with no real answers given. Let’s take a look at everything that went down during the movie’s finale.
City of Lies focuses on L.A. police detective Russell Poole (Johnny Depp), who has spent years trying to solve the murders of the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. Two decades after their deaths, the case remained open. Out of the blue, a reporter named Jack Jackson (Forrest Whitaker) tracks Poole down and is determined to solve the murders once and for all. The deeper the duo get into their investigation, the more they begin to unravel a web of institutional corruption and racism within the LAPD.
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By the end of City of Lies, Poole and Jackson are able to lay out the start of a convincing argument as to who was responsible, along with who within the LAPD may have enabled the heinous crime. Before that, however, Poole tragically dies of a sudden heart attack. The movie ends just as it begins, with the murder of Christopher Wallace remaining unsolved. At its heart, City of Lies tells a deeper story — one of a deeply flawed system and the people who suffer because of it.
East Coast-West Coast Feud Explained
City of Lies focuses heavily on the East Coast-West Coast hip-hop feud. Rappers from each side of the country would constantly call each other out on their songs. The feud itself was mainly sparked by and focused on the specific rivalry between fans of East Coast-based rapper The Notorious B.I.G. and West Coast-based Tupac Shakur, both of whom were tragically murdered in separate drive-by shootings. Shakur was murdered on September 7, 1996, and Crips gang member Orlando Anderson, a.k.a. Baby Lane, was always considered to be the prime suspect. But with Anderson’s own murder two years later, the case was essentially closed.
Wallace was murdered just five months later on March 9, 1997, while he was in Los Angeles for an awards show. Wallace may have been New York-based but, as his murder took place in Los Angeles, the case fell within the jurisdiction of the LAPD. Depp’s City of Lies character was based on the real-life police officer who investigated Wallace’s murder. Just like with his film counterpart, he became absolutely consumed by the case. The book he wrote on the circumstances of the murder served as the inspiration for City of Lies. Depp’s portrayal of Poole showed why Wallace’s murder stuck with him. He was a good and honest police officer who was haunted by the fact that the young rapper’s family would never have closure on his death.
Why The Notorious B.I.G. Was Murdered
It’s important to note that at the time of their murders, gangsta rap was its peak. A number of the most notable names in the rap game at the time truly were gangsters, coming from rough backgrounds on the street and plenty being formerly or still involved in gangs and crime. So it’s more understandable that Poole and Jackson had a theory that music mogul and mob boss Suge Knight arranged Wallace’s murder. In addition to his nefarious extracurricular activities, Knight ran Death Row Records, which happened to be the label Tupac was signed to. The story goes that, at the boiling point of the East Coast-West Coast feud, Knight simply wanted Wallace out of the picture. Since Knight was in prison at the time of the murder, the investigation went nowhere. But as City of Lies demonstrated, Poole and Jackson strung together significant evidence to prove that Knight was likely involved. This was all thanks to the hold he had on the corrupt LAPD. Poole showed Jackson proof from a previous incident that the LAPD had connections to Death Row Records before Wallace’s death.
As the police department redacted the vast majority of the incident to erase that proof, however, that theory could also never be officially proven. It was the uncertainties and loose ends that drove Poole to the low point in his life that the movie finds him in. Wallace’s murder has gone down in history as one of the highest-profile unsolved murder cases in American history. As Poole’s former partner told Jackson, he was honest almost to the point of insubordination. It killed him that he couldn’t provide Wallace’s family with the answers they deserved. Poole sacrificed everything to try and get them those answers. But the very fact that he had to give up so much and the LAPD wouldn’t budge proves just how corrupt the department was.
Why the LAPD Never Solved the Case
Just like in reality, the reason that the Notorious B.I.G.’s murder was never solved is wrapped up in theory after theory. But the Johnny Depp movie provides a good reason for believing those theories. Simply put, solving the case would have provided ample evidence of the massive corruption and cover-up within the LAPD at that time. The LAPD was filled with officers that essentially operated as gang members and who closely worked with influential criminals for kickbacks and bribes. But instead of using the mishandled high-profile murder as an opportunity for growth and restructuring, the department let its corruption fester under the surface. City of Lies has a split timeline, one taking place immediately after Wallace’s murder in 1997, and the other taking place nearly 20 years later in 2015. In the time between, the corrupt police officers within the department were allowed to continue on with their illegal activities. Poole and his investigation were essentially thrown under the bus in order to protect the corruption of the LAPD from coming to light.
What Happened to Russell Poole?
Johnny Depp’s Poole met a tragic end right as he was on the trail of something big. After Jackson shared a decades-old search warrant, Poole went to LA’s homicide department to ask for help. When he was turned down, he suddenly collapsed and died shortly after. City of Lies‘ end credits revealed that the real Russell Poole met a similar end, dying of an aneurysm. Poole sacrificed his family, happiness, and the job he once loved to try and bring justice to Wallace’s family and save the department he once held in such high esteem. Sadly, he couldn’t do any of that before he died. City of Lies underscored that Russell Poole was just one more of the countless people that the LAPD failed during that time period. If the department had simply done the right thing at Poole’s urging, he would have been in a much better place in life at the time of his tragically sudden passing.
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