“Police corruption is very present in LA”: Nick Broomfield on Last Man Standing

The British documentary filmmaker discusses new evidence of police corruption and murder, in his follow-up to Biggie and Tupac.

Last Man Standing (2021)

► Last Man Standing: Suge Knight and the Murders of Biggie & Tupac is in UK cinemas from 2 July.

In 2002, the veteran British documentary maker Nick Broomfield released Biggie and Tupac, looking at the lives and deaths of the American rap superstars Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur.

Two decades on, the British filmmaker is back with an update, Last Man Standing: Suge Knight and the Murders of Biggie & Tupac, digging further into Shakur’s label Death Row Records and its imposing owner Suge Knight, who is now serving a 28-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter.

Crucially, Broomfield spotlights fresh evidence that corrupt members of the Los Angeles Police Department were involved in the murders of both rappers – echoing the discredited theories of ex-LAPD detective Russell Poole, who died in 2015.

James Mottram: Last Man Standing re-examines the Biggie and Tupac case. Do you feel it’s a vindication of the late Russell Poole’s theories?

Nick Broomfield: I do think it’s a vindication of Russell. His theory was not mad, and he wasn’t a crazy person. He was very discredited. And he was a sensitive guy: he started drinking fairly heavily, was probably taking tranquillisers and his marriage came to pieces. He’s got a son… who I spoke to at length. And I think it will obviously mean a great deal to him to feel that it wasn’t all for nothing, that there was a real substance to what he was saying. I think it gives him the respect that he deserves.

You were in production during the Black Lives Matter protests last year. How did that change things?

It’s made the police a lot more defensive, and a lot more suspicious. And, in a way, it validated this attempt to do this film, it gave it a lot of meaning and purpose. I’ve always been very interested in the politics of the police force, and there is no city where there’s a bigger dichotomy than in Los Angeles, really. Even when I did the Heidi Fleiss film [Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam, 1995], the police were right there involved in the middle of the whole thing. And so I suppose the police corruption aspect of living in this city is very, very present. And this is a very extreme example of it.

Suge Knight and Tupac Shakur in Last Man Standing (2021)

On the first film, one of your interviews didn’t record and your cameraman also got the ‘ab-dabs’, as you put it, while filming in prison. Any mishaps this time around?

There weren’t any kind of mishaps like that. I guess when the rumour went around that I had been in the LAPD and was a suspicious character not to be trusted… that was kind of worrying! Those guys don’t really use the internet, it’s still all street-speak. That’s how rumours get spread, and bad things can happen. So that probably gave me the ab-dabs when I heard that. I thought, “This is not cool.” And these are pretty tough people.

Given the title of the film, who do you feel is the ‘last man standing’ in this story?

I guess that’s Suge Knight, really. He was the big link with the other two. And was very much the shadow behind the murders and was obviously incredibly close to Tupac.

Do you know if he saw Biggie and Tupac?

No, but I had this weird encounter [a few years ago] and I nearly put it in the film. I was, funnily enough, in the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel. And I was speaking to Gore Vidal. Suge Knight suddenly came into the Polo Lounge and saw me and just went and stood behind my chair. So I couldn’t see him. Apparently, the Polo Lounge was where he did business… He’d meet people there. And Gore Vidal said, “What do you want?” He didn’t say anything. And then this other rather large guy got up and said, “What do you want?” And at that point, Suge Knight said, “I’ll be waiting for you in the lobby.” And I thought, “Oh, my God, I’m going to have to check into the bloody Beverly Hills Hotel for a couple of weeks now before I dare to go out.” But when I got out, he wasn’t there. I did feel a real sense of menace. And it seems so weird too that it would happen somewhere like the Polo Lounge.

What do you remember about interviewing him at Mule Creek State Prison for the first movie?

I remember, when we went into the institution, they said, “Look, it’s fine you’re being here, but we don’t want you to be an impediment to our security. In the event that you are taken hostage – which is possible – we would need the right to be able to shoot out your knees. Will you please sign here?” And you did catch your breath and think “Oh, my God, what am I getting into?” But that was really the only fear I had.

Have you become a fan of the music of Biggie or Tupac?

My son, Barney, who was then a teenager, was very into Tupac. Biggie is such a slick wordsmith. Both of them are incredible. And the more I’ve listened to them, and understood about them, the more appreciative I’ve become of their talent. They spoke for so many people and so many people’s life situation and worldview, and I think that’s why they’re still so incredibly influential and popular, because their work is still just as relevant as it was then.

Further reading

The new issue of Sight and Sound

In this 21st-century cinema special: 25 critics choose an era-defining film from each year of the century, and J. Hoberman asks: what is a 21st-century film? Plus: ten talking points from Cannes – George Miller on Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga – remembering Roger Corman with a never-before-seen interview.

Get your copy