A new scripted feature film on the 1990s investigation into the unsolved murders of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, is in development; however, the story will unfold through the eyes of the Los Angeles detective – Russell Poole – who was in charge of the inquiry.
Johnny Depp is attached to star in what was said to be a very attractive project (to buyers) at the Toronto film market last month, which runs annually in conjunction with the Toronto International Film Festival.
Good Universe repped the film, titled “LAbyrinth,” which is based on a book of the same name by Randall Sullivan.
The film will also dig into the uncovered corruption in the LAPD that Poole encountered, thanks to his dogged legwork, after endless dead ends in the cases.
Rockmond Dunbar has joined Depp in the film, to play a character named Dreadlocks. The press announcement doesn’t say who Dreadlocks is specifically, since this is based on a real-life story. But in researching author Randall Sullivan’s book which the film is an adaptation of, there’s a figure named Mario Ha’mmonds, who is described as “a hulking figure who wore graying dreadlocks and black horn-rim glasses,” and who happened to be a man that investigators believed could break the case of the murders of Tupac and Biggie Smalls wide open. He’s further described as “an intimidating convicted felon,” as well as “a former partner in a small rap label called Lock Records [who] had a long and complicated history of both criminal conduct and cooperation with the authorities.” In addition, Ha’mmonds had been working with the FBI since the early Nineties and was passed on to the LAPD as a “confidential and reliable” informant in 1999, after the Biggie Smalls murder. From 1997 to 1999, he was part of Suge Knight’s protective circle at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo.
Based on write-ups of Sullivan’s book, it appears Ha’mmonds plays a significant role in the story. But I’m only speculating that he is the Dreadlocks character that Rockmond Dunbar is now attached to play, if only because he’s the only key character in Sullivan’s book whose physical description includes mention of his “graying dreadlocks.”
Brad Furman (“The Lincoln Lawyer”) is attached to direct “LAbyrinth” which Open Road Films recently picked up distribution rights to. Writer Christian Contreras adapted Randall Sullivan’s book of the same name.
Good Films is producing.
Russell Poole (who Depp will play) was a decorated LA detective who devoted many months to the investigation, leading him to eventually conclude that “gangsta cops in his own force were not only involved but were also tied to Death Row Records and the Bloods street gang.” Obviously LAPD brass weren’t too pleased with Poole for making this public, and he would later go into early retirement.
So obviously this is a film that’s less about Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, and more about Poole and his investigation. But given the subject matter, it’s safe to assume that there will probably be a few key roles for black actors to play in the film, including that which Rockmond Dunbar has now been cast for.
By the way, there are other Tupac/Biggie projects on the way. First, Morgan Creek’s upcoming “All Eyez on Me,” stars Demetrius Shipp Jr. playing Tupac. He’s joined by Danai Gurira as Afeni Shakur, Dominic L. Santana as Suge Knight, Annie Ilonzeh as Kidada Jones, Grace Gibson as Faith Evans, Jamie Hector as Tupac’s stepfather Mutulu Shakur, Kat Graham as Jada Pinkett Smith, and Jamal Woolard as Biggie Smalls.
Benny Boom is directing the film.
No release date has been set yet, but I’d expect a late 2016, early 2017 release.
And second, Anthony Hemingway is shifting from his work on FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” and turning his true-crime lens on the deaths of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls (a.k.a. Notorious B.I.G.) in an upcoming project for the USA Network.
Based on the experiences of former LAPD Detective Greg Kading, who wrote the book “Murder Rap: The Untold Story of Biggie Smalls & Tupac Shakur Murder Investigations,” a pilot has been ordered for “Unsolved,” which will chronicle the two major police investigations into the rappers’ murders. Hemingway will direct the pilot and serve as an Executive Producer, alongside Mark Taylor and Kyle Long, who is penning the script.