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Last Man Standing: Broomfield goes back to Biggie

Director probes police, politics and poisonous gang culture in follow-up to his 2002 documentary about the deaths of rap superstars

01 July, 2021 — By Dan Carrier

From left: Biggie Smalls, Suge Knight and Tupac Shakur

LAST MAN STANDING
Directed by Nick Broomfield
Certificate: 15
☆☆☆☆☆

THE person or persons who murdered the rap artist Biggie Smalls in March 1997 have never been brought to justice, and how such a high-profile tragedy remained unsolved is the question posed by documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield.

In Last Man Standing, Broomfield is revisiting ground he covered in 2002, when he investigated the deaths of Tupac Shakur and Biggie. He uncovers new evidence that points the finger at the recently imprisoned record mogul Suge Knight, of Death Row Records, as the man who ordered the murder of Biggie in retaliation for the shooting of Tupac.

He follows allegations made by LA detective Russell Poole that two LAPD officers, who moonlighted as security at Death Row Records, carried out the hit.

It is a murky story, and Broomfield covers the ground with a sense of responsibility. His sources are intriguing, and he creates a fascinatingly comprehensive picture of the poisonous gang culture that surrounded Death Row Records and rap culture of the time. It isn’t pretty.

Broomfield believes Detective Poole, who died in 2015, was unfairly maligned by his colleagues after he uncovered a scandal that went to the heart of the LAPD. He says he was moved to go back to the topic after becoming increasingly frustrated hearing a series of falsehoods about the murders become accepted as fact, and what transpires is a searing piece of investigative journalism.

As those from the Death Row entourage who agreed to be interviewed make clear, the extreme violence that took the lives of these talented artists makes no more sense today than it did then.

There are elements of this story that are unconsciously linked to the work of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gary Webb, who uncovered a scandal at the heart of the Reagan government that ruined literally thousands of people’s lives.

He discovered the crack cocaine epidemic – which swept through Los Angeles and was controlled in part by the gangs featured in this documentary – was linked to raising funds for the CIA backed Contras in Nicaragua.

It led to a flood of hard drugs that wrecked lives, and prompted a government response that saw millions of predominantly black men, who had been drawn into drug addiction, incarcerated.

The story of the rise and fall of Suge Knight, and the accompanying police corruption, dovetails with this sordid period in recent American history.

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