All Eyez On Me, 2017.
Directed by Benny Boom
Starring: Demetrius Shipp Jr., Danai Gurira, Kat Graham, Dominic L. Santana, Jamal Woolard and Annie Ilonzeh
A biopic on the life and career of the late American rapper and cultural icon Tupac Shakur.
It’s been nearly 21 years since Tupac Shakur died in hospital from injuries sustained in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. The speculation and conspiracy theories that continue to surround his death are indicative of his persona – daring, outspoken and divisive – and the impact he made on contemporary music.
Following in the footsteps of 2015’s Straight Outta Compton, All Eyez On Me is an ambitious portrait of Tupac the man and 2Pac the artist. There’s certainly a lot to pack in – the Shakur family’s Black Panther activism, childhood moves from New York to Baltimore and then finally to California’s Bay Area, early record deal, friendship and subsequent rivalry with Biggie, arrests and time in prison, and Death Row Records signing. Tupac’s 25-year life didn’t lack drama and intrigue.
Perhaps overwhelmed with the numerous flashpoints to cover, the film’s writers have adopted a Wikipedia-style approach to telling Tupac’s story. All Eyez On Me tends to race through events in chronological order to give a glossy overview rather than explore particular motives, actions or attitudes. As a result, this production won’t offer any deep insights or fresh takes compared to previous news reports and documentaries.
Despite these shortcomings, All Eyez On Me is propelled forward thanks to a charismatic central performance by Demetrius Shipp Jr. This is Shipp Jr.’s debut role and he does a remarkable job of capturing Tupac’s energy, swagger, sensitivity and anger. On top of that, the physical resemblance becomes truly uncanny when he puts on the white vest and bandana. Also notable is Danai Gurira who plays Tupac’s politically engaged mother, Afeni Shakur.
Other celebrity characters are introduced – including Jada Pinkett, Dr Dre, Nas and Snoop Dogg – but their appearances are too brief to really resonate. Pinkett, in particular, is described as a loyal and platonic confidante, and yet she disappears from the screen fairly quickly.
There’s no doubt Tupac deserves cinematic treatment. What All Eyez On Me does is provide a flashy taster and best serves those less familiar with the late star’s legacy. A tighter and more confident script would be able to tease out the contradictions within Tupac himself – a person who quoted Shakespeare and penned poetry about inner city troubles but also indulged in fame and its trappings; a civil rights student who also helped perpetuate the image of an African-American gangster; a man who loved his mother, sister and female best friend but was also jailed for sexual assault.
A separate takeaway – All Eyez On Me, along with Straight Outta Compton, once again reveals that ‘90s rap and hip hop is rich with compelling figures and narratives for Hollywood to pay attention to.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★★