Tupac fans lower your expectations. All Eyez on Me is a helicopter biopic of the late rapper and activist. The film ticks all the boxes for the important dates, people, and events in Tupac’s life. What it doesn’t do is provide any insight whatsoever to the man or the events that really shaped him. All Eyez on Me lacks depth. It works in the sense that it explains how the rapper became famous. That might be adequate for those with zero knowledge of Tupac’s life and music. For the throngs of fans and naysayers who are familiar with Tupac, there’s nothing here that hasn’t been publicized ad nauseam. It’s as if Tupac’s wikipedia page got the big screen treatment.
The film begins in 1971 with pregnant Black Panther activist, Afeni Shakur (Danai Gurira), shouting down reporters after being acquitted in a New York Court. We get a brief glimpse of Tupac and his sister as children. They are constantly surveilled and targeted by the FBI. Demetrius Shipp Jr., astonishing in his likeness to Tupac, plays the rapper from his early teenage years in Baltimore. A standout in his school’s theater program, Tupac meets his lifelong best friend, Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham).
As Afeni Shakur succumbed to crack addiction that destroyed the inner cities of the 1980’s, Tupac and his sister are sent to live in Oakland, California. It’s on the Oakland streets that Tupac witness murder, gang violence, and female brutalization; topics that would inspire his powerful lyrics. At seventeen, Tupac becomes a back-up rapper and dancer to the group Digital Underground. He gets his first taste of the bling, money, and groupies that come with fame. As he embarks on a solo career with Interscope Records, Tupac becomes embroiled in repeated criminal cases involving murder, rape, and assault, which would eventually see him incarcerated. He befriends dangerous gangsters that leech his talent and image. It would be the continuing catalysts that defined his short, remaining days.
Directed by Benny Boom and written by Steve Bagatourian, All Eyez on Me doesn’t want to leave anything out. Instead of exploring Tupac as a person, the camera just follows him through his life. It wants to give time to all the major players, Biggie Smalls, Suge Knight, Puff Daddy, Snoop Dogg etc. I attribute this approach to the decades of conjecture and speculation concerning Tupac’s murder. The filmmakers wanted to touch everything and anyone in the public discourse regarding Tupac. This is a throwing paint of the wall approach. You cover a lot of space, but do it shoddily and without tact.
While the overall film is lacking, it does have good performances from Demetrius Shipp Jr. and Danai Gurira. The relationship between Tupac and his mother is the best realized element. Afeni Shakur’s fight against white oppression, her teachings, and drug addiction defined Tupac. Shipp Jr. is a mirror image of the rapper, as close to a Tupac doppelganger as possible. He disappears into the character, bringing Tupac back to life with tremendous realism. It’s a pity he wasn’t given a chance to explore the character further than generalities.
From Lionsgate and Codeblack Films, All Eyez on Me is the Cliff’s Notes edition of Tupac Shakur’s life. I’m sure there will be many comparisons between this film and last year’s Straight Outta Compton. That film is superior in every sense, but we shouldn’t compare them just because the subjects are black rappers. I wish All Eyez on Me were better on multiple fronts. The friendship between Tupac Shakur and Jada Pinkett, his engagement to Kidada Jones, these events are just glossed over. Tupac was a controversial, troubled, and immensely talented figure. All Eyez on Me scrapes the surface of his story.