“All Eyez on Me” presents several sides of Tupac Shakur, the iconic rapper whose life came to a violent end at age twenty-five. Coming to theatres on June 16—which would have been the rapper’s 46th birthday—we see Shakur both as a devoted mother’s boy, a poet and gun toting tough guy accused of sexual assault.
Shakur (Demetrius Shipp Jr.) lived several lifetimes in the brief period he was here and the film wastes no time getting us up to speed. Director Benny Boom uses an interview led by a TV reporter (Hill Harper) to skip through the major events of Shakur’s formative years. From being raised by Black Panther leaders and auditioning to be a high school Hamlet to writing poetry and watching his parents arrested by the FBI, the film spends twenty minutes establishing the unsettled background that gave him a lasting urge to expose the underbelly of life on the street.
It’s familiar biopic device that allows filmmakers to quickly cover a lot of ground by creating vignettes based on the interviewer’s questions. Here it feels clunky and while it provides background info it does so in a perfunctory way. We get scene after scene with little real insight into what made Shakur tick.
The film improves when it drops the interview premise and keeps the film in real time. The compelling story of Shakur’s legal and financial problems and his fateful decision to sign on with Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana) and west coast hip hop label Death Row Records takes up the film’s second half to better results. It is still content to offer up platitudes—“Its amazing Pac,” says manager Atron (Keith Robinson). “You’re on your way.”—but by the time Shakur finds out the hard way that “there’s more to this business then recording records,” the story finally finds it pace.
There is a great movie to be made of Tupac Shakur’s life but “All Eyez on Me” is not it. His short but eventful life is the stuff of legend, his dual nature a fascinating character study but Boom has a rough time condensing the life of such a complex man into two hours.
Shipp Jr. (whose father produced Pac’s “Toss It Up”) bears such an uncanny resemblance to the late rapper he almost legitimises the conspiracy theory that the rapper’s death was faked. In his first acting gig what he lacks in technique Shipp Jr. makes up for in looks.
Structurally the film has problems, but the movie finishes strong with Boom doing a good job of building some tension in the final moments leading up to the fatal Las Vegas drive-by shooting.
“All Eyez on Me” is a near miss. A little depth to the storytelling could have added context to the importance of Shakur as a cultural figure. There is talk about the gap between the civil rights generation and the hip-hop era and rap music’s objectification of women but neither is satisfactorily explored. The most telling line in the film comes early on when the young rapper is negotiating a record deal with Interscope Records. “There are people who want to be entertained,” he says, “and there are people who want to be heard.” It’s too bad the movie doesn’t give voice to the real spirit of the hip hop icon.