All Eyez on Me
Demetrius Shipp Jr., Danai Gurira, Kat Graham
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A ‘best of’ reel, but a very good one at that.
Today, the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Eminem, and Kanye West have been elevated to the status of hip-hop legends and much of their fandom treats them as if they were religious deities. But before these men (and it is important to note that they are all men) held these positions, there was a fervour and fandom for one artist unlike any other, a man who is still the subject of debate and rumour over faking his own death: Tupac Amaru Shakur. One thing is for certain, however – his influence on the hip-hop industry can still be felt today, and with the recent success of the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton, it was only a matter of time before we got a new Tupac biopic, All Eyez On Me.
One problem when making films about figures who are as adored as Tupac Shakur is always the fear that the lead actor’s look, voice, and mannerisms will simply stray too far for the audience to focus on the narrative. But have no fear, for when you first set eyes upon Demetrius Shipp Jr. as the eponymous star, you may wonder if Tupac really did fake his death and has come back to star in his own film. Shipp nails the role in every way possible, capturing the bravado, the talent, and the poignant introspection of this tortured artist.
The film itself feels less confident. The story is framed through interviews Tupac undertook in 1996 whilst in prison, reflecting on the events that led to his incarceration, as the film flashes back and forth. Whether it was just an unseasoned editor or there was too much to fit into the first ten to twenty minutes, but the film jumps around in a very jarring way at first, ending scenes in what feels like mid-conversation. Eventually, All Eyez On Me finds its footing when Tupac finds his way within the rap industry. From there we see all the highs and lows of his career, those who influenced him – from his Black Panther member mother, fellow east-coast rapper Biggie Smalls, and the manager of Death Row Records, Suge Knight – until his death at the age of 25.
Nothing is missing from this in-depth biopic, but somehow, it doesn’t feel like it speaks to who Tupac was either. For such an opinionated, thought-provoking storyteller, the Tupac we see in the film does not express much in the way of thoughts on life, music, and his role as a voice for African-Americans, all of which he expressed prolifically in real life. In fact, one of the film’s best scenes highlights the rest of its inadequacy.
Before hitting it big, Tupac is signing with Interscope Records, so long as he drops the song ‘Brenda’s Got A Baby’ from the album. The song revolves around a 12-year-old who falls pregnant to her cousin, has the baby, and then spirals into drug abuse and prostitution. When the executives tell him to drop the song, Tupac goes into a speech about how he is a voice for those who have none, how he is speaking of the true America, the one he’s grown up with. He would rather not get signed than give up on what he believes. If the film had shown us this side of Tupac more, it could have gone from good to great. Otherwise, it plays like a “best of” reel, but a very good one at that.