Synopsis – Tells the true and untold story of prolific rapper, actor, poet and activist Tupac Shakur.
My Take – It’s hard to believe that hip-hop icon Tupac Shakur’s long overdue biopic has finally hit theatres! From what I could gather, a film charting Tupac’s meteoric rise and fall from street poet to rap martyr had been in development hell for years with filmmakers like Spike Lee and John Singleton attached to direct plus a severe holdback from Tupac’s mother w, ho simply wanted her son’s story to be told right. Personally, I never was much of a Tupac fan, mainly as I was too young when icon took the stage & conquered it, but somehow, I just couldn’t ignore his fascinating story which is filled with violent irony. The prolific rapper, actor, urban poet and activist may have had a short career spanning only nine years from 1987, to his death in 1996, he became one of the most recognizable and most influential people in the world, until someone with a gun brought his run to an end. Two decades later, his murder still remains unsolved. As per estimates, the legendary American hip-hop singer has sold more than 75 million records worldwide & most of the music magazines put him among the most influential underground artistes the West has ever seen, but why is this important? Because he was only 25 when he was murdered. This film by director Benny Boom, whose title shares the title of one of Shakur’s biggest hits, tries to take a neutral look at the black icon who could have done much more for his community and music if his focus hadn’t flickered. Knowing that the film has been critically poorly received (a staggering 17% on Rotten Tomatoes), I decided to give this one a watch with an open mind & watch a story about rage, speed and the thrills of the fast life unfold on screen. Was this film perfect? No! Is it a must watch like other films based on rappers, like Notorious & Straight Outta Compton? Not really. However, it is quite good considering the subject.
The story follows Tupac Shakur (Demetrius Shipp Jr.) growing up in 1970s East Harlem as the son of an activist mother Afeni (Danai Gurira) and stepfather Mutulu Shakur (Jamie Hector), both members of the Black Panthers. They move from New York to Maryland, where he attends the Baltimore School of the Arts alongside classmate Jada Pinkett Smith (Kat Graham), the future wife of Hollywood A lister Will Smith. But just as he’s landed the lead role in the school production of “Hamlet,” he’s uprooted again to Los Angeles, where he witnesses a murder on Day 1. Primarily a documentation of Tupac’s life through the eyes of a presumably impartial journalist (Hill Harper) who interviews Tupac during one of his many jail terms, the film tells the story of this icon’s rise from a background dancer for Digital Underground to marking his acting debut in the 1992 acclaimed film named ‘Juice’ to a record deal with Interscope. As we chart his smash success selling over 75 million records, we also see the dangers that thwart his potential, from his sexual assault conviction (he maintained his innocence), to the shooting that sparked East Coast vs. West Coast (he believed Biggie & Puffy set him up), to his drive-by murder on that fateful night in Las Vegas in 1996. The film tries to appear like a documentary on the condition of the African-American community in the US & it succeeds also because it makes you really uncomfortable at times and forces you to take notice. Sure, the film starts out slow and is questionable as to whether the film is actually more about Tupac himself or racial issues, but once he is released from jail, the film picks way up and is very entertaining including realistic events and characters. The film is a lot more interesting than I was expecting, I usually find biopics to be pretty slow-paced but this one was pretty involving. I personally did not see any problem with it and the sadly well-known first hour of the film, except for the succession of scenes that maybe was a bit too much and really slowed down the whole pace of the film. But, what did you guys expect?! The background of Tupac Amaru Shakur, all his influences and how he rose to fame could not to be told in an hour, it is simply not possible, because there is just too much to put on the screen and while making a film you have to make choices. I really felt like the key moments of his life as well as his artistry were rightly shown. You see him playing in Hamlet, but also in the lead role of Bishop in Juice, you even get to see him play in Above the Rim and tell the story of Brenda’s got a Baby in front of the producers with who he has a dispute over whether or not the song can be put in his album. I also loved that they also included how intelligent and intellectual Tupac was. For some reason, rappers get stereotyped as common street thugs who are incapable of stringing together two sentences, but they showed that Tupac was much more than that. In addition to being a thug, he was outspoken, a writer, a poet, an actor, an activist, a humanitarian, a deep- thinker, and a militant. He was an artist for the people and the streets, and by the people and the streets. Tupac made no apologies for who he was. I liked that they showed that side of him rather than watering him down. When it came to Tupac, anybody could get the business. Ironically, the women in his life provide the film’s moral conscience, first, it’s mother Afeni, whose political aptitude earns his respect, later, it’s Pinkett Smith, who urges him to aim higher than violent lyrics, despising his dis record Hit ‘Em Up, finally, it’s Quincy Jones’ daughter Kidada (Annie Ilonzeh), his fiancé left waiting at a Las Vegas hotel on the night of his drive-by death. Directed by Benny Boom and written by Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez and Steven Bagatourian, here we see Tupac as an intelligent, talented, creative and basically happy man who has learned his mother’s lessons well, as we see in the music that he makes after moving out west.
Originally unhappy to move, his arrival in Oakland opened up new and bigger outlets for his burgeoning talent. He joins and tours with the group Digital Underground and soon begins working on his solo career. He lands at Interscope Records where he has to fight to get his music released his way, but his music brings criticism for its misogynistic and violent lyrics. As Tupac becomes more famous, he also finds himself in a number of violent and legally troubling situations, including a run-in with police after jaywalking, his involvement in a shooting at a community gathering, a shooting incident involving two off-duty cops, Tupac himself being robbed and shot and the sexual assault case which sent him to prison. Each of these situations is portrayed from Tupac’s point of view, with him as the victim of someone else’s wrongdoing. The film also focuses on the rapper’s film career and spends a lot of time on his involvement with Death Row Records and its infamous CEO, Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana), his romance with Quincy Jones’ daughter, Kidada and Tupac’s friendship-turned-rivalry with rapper Biggie Smalls (Jamal Woolard, reprising his role from 2009’s “Notorious“). All the familiar buttons are pressed about Race and Sex, but despite its predictability, many of the images in the film are compelling and arresting. Despite being meandering and disjointed, the film has a mysterious something going for it, like its subject, it is freewheeling and aggressive, and at the same time exuding an air of unknowing indolence not know what to do with itself. The film is on sturdier footing when it acts more as a documentary: the old music still sounds great, of course, and the film’s attempts to hold Shakur’s life up against the revolutionary politics of his mother show flashes of a better film that more fully tackles his complex legacy. There’s a quick, insightful juxtaposition between the moment he got his subversive “thug life” tattoo and the fact that his single at the time was the hedonist anthem “I Get Around.” But this theme is washed away in a flood of competing plot threads. The second half devolves into a sort of chamber drama, with small groups of characters meeting in poorly furnished rooms to deliver terse bursts of biography: Death Row Records; various legal problems; his feud with Biggie. One sequence stretches the tensile strength of the biopic concept to the breaking point, as Tupac meets Dr. Dre, promptly writes and records “California Love,” witnesses Suge Knight murder someone, and then walks into another studio to write and record “Gangsta Party,” all in rapid succession. Unlike the hardcore lyricist himself the film suffers from backstage problems. Boom‘s style of directing is a little heavy-handed; sure, enough the idea is fresh as there have been plenty of films like this before there was Notorious and Straight Outta Compton. There’s no light touch here, even the deviation between light-hearted comedy and serious melodrama is poorly handled. The shaky editing and the poor screenplay are no help either which leaves the film close to an uninspiring mess which is something the man himself was not. The end is also quite abrupt. Tupac is getting shot in Vegas and we hear some gospel followed by a black screen. I understand that the film could not had been 3 hours long, but why did they not put 15 or 20 minutes more to show the people at the hospital, or focusing on Frank Alexander and the discussion he had later on with Suge concerning the flaws in the security? It would have been way better! Probably the best thing about the film is Demetrius Shipp Jr. as Tupac. Though you can tell that at times he’s struggling with a screenplay that gives him little to work with, he is mostly outstanding, plus it does help that he looked & sounded exactly like Tupac. Danai Gurira as his mother Afeni Shakur is often the dramatic core of the film with her smoldering intensity as a single black mother versus the world. Kat Graham was memorable as Jada Pinkett and in this dramatic reenactment of his life serves plausibly as his warning light or conscience. Dominic L. Santana is a masterfully dominant presence as Suge Knight. In smaller roles, Hill Harper, Annie Ilonzeh, Lauren Cohan, Keith Robinson, Jamal Woolard, Josh Ventura, Clifton Powell, Jarrett Ellis and Jamie Hector play their parts well. On the whole, ‘All Eyez on Me’ is an interesting and well-crafted, although a little drab account of the life of one of the most important music artists of the 20th century.
Directed – Benny Boom
Rated – R
Run Time – 139 minutes