Everyone has wanted to perhaps make a Tupac movie once in their lifetime, especially since there are so many ideas in regard to the legacy of Shakur. If not, everyone has at least wanted to see a Tupac movie, especially after the success of the 2009 biopic of his hip-hop twin, the Notorious B.I.G. As if you cannot already tell by the alluring title All Eyez On Me, this fan-inspired aura is somewhat what the new, highly-anticipated biopic on Tupac is like. The film definitely has Tupac in it, played by newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr., whose bald head, tattoos, voice, and walk makes you suspicious that this man could be the late-great musician. The film also has all the Tupac hits you can think of ( except everyone’s favorite “Changes” ), and they play conveniently at the top of nearly every different phase of Tupac’s career, which gives the anticipated ode to longtime superfans of the provocative legend. In the middle of the dashing charm of Shipp Jr. and the music is where the operation on the rap legend reaches an interesting crossroads. With so much emphasis on the remarkable resemblance of Shipp to Shakur aligned with the reliance on memory to fill in scenes, Tupac’s story dissolves in the midst of hip-hop drama and struggles to find a special place for the important parts of the story that made the world want to see or make it in every format possible. As a result, All Eyez On Me riskily settles between the ranking system of not-so-great and not-so-bad from an imbalance of its cryptic, fan-empowered ideas and its original creative vision for a man’s reality courtesy of a Director who has pursued a candid take on music personalities for nearly two decades.
The beginning lures you into a creative vision with a reenactment of Tupac’s rare 1995 interview in prison, which flashes back to his life up to that point. The interview serves as a good reminder to visualize Tupac’s story through Tupac’s own words and perspective, which honors the most appealing aspect of the star as someone who climbed to the Music Mount Rushmore with his deeply personal tales. Particularly, its use as an introduction sparks the necessary interest in Tupac as a complex being of a musician and man. Also, the rare sighting of Shakur with hair and the Journalist ( played by Hill Harper ) asking questions full press on the star’s beliefs and getting his answers only how Tupac unabashedly gave them satisfies the accuracy requirement of the biopic. Last, but certainly not least, the interview keeps its promise as a reference for flashback, sneaking onto the base of several scenes, acting almost as a philosophical guide straight out of Tupac’s subconscious. Having the interview throughout the film provides a structure which does not get in the way immediately, but admittedly and eventually, it gets in the way of a budding fluidity that is attempting to reflect a story full of more surprises than structure.
For a man who warranted no introduction at any point in his life and career, introductions and other organizational tools are offered too much. Watching Afeni Shakur ( played by Danai Gurira ) walk out of a courthouse with a public speech and an obviously round belly gives the film away as a genuine biographical story, and the mere inclusion of Jada Pinkett-Smith in the role of Tupac’s childhood friend ( played by Kat Graham ) lifts the biographical features, but the way in which these moments are staged one after another makes the film feel less like the first biopic of the rap pioneer and more like a replaying of information from Tupac historians eager to test the public’s knowledge of Tupac’s life and times; it honestly feels like a documentary film. All at once, you experience a high from Tupac’s upbringing and you experience a low when those moments are interrupted by a very fast pitch of his life on the stage. The zipline straight from the Black Panthers and art school to meeting with record executives gives a faint idea of how Tupac’s career soared in the public eye, but it does not examine Tupac in the private eye of a filmmaker working on his story from the ground up. A simple chronology seems as an easy way to invite all 25 years of a young and fast life, but this comprehension of the writing is competing with the swiftness of the directing.
For the Director’s eagerness, Tupac suffers ineptly between the binary he avoided his entire career: perception vs reality. The basic layout of the Black Panther connection through his Mother’s involvement and how he knew a famous actress friend from way back in art school undermines the transitions it took to kick off his career as a Rapper, Poet, Actor, and Activist. As if simply knowing that these people existed in these roles corroborates Tupac’s discussions about specific influences on his career, specifically women, these relationships are built on quick dialogue in a scene or two instead of whole acts where the reflection of their roles is necessary or else the whole making of Tupac seems baseless. Because of the cliché making, the intimacy that inspired songs such as “Brenda’s Got A Baby” becomes untraceable to its solid foundation, and it becomes hard to believe in the essential narrative of Tupac as a young man who created such deep songs beyond his years when, in fact, he did create them, and he created them out of strong belief and purpose. He created them so often that the world has spent a lifetime connecting the music and the purpose.
When the music madness finally starts, it has no choice but to rapidly cling onto the heavily packed down version of Tupac, which prompts him to plead with labels about his music instead of a more real Tupac, whom not only pleaded with the safe haven of the music industry, but with the unfamiliar grounds of public acceptance and the federal government. By playing it safe, the music that broke barriers in the conditions of streets and prisons seems to break into nothing, except the plain areas of record offices and homes. The music rests on comfortable background information when it should be like it was: upbeat and moving into chaos which prompts moments like Tupac introducing the philosophy of “Thug Life” to a public crowd and other public appearances he made to defend the nature of his music.
For what it is worth, there is so much music and so many moments that Tupac definitely appears to be a man on a mission with some form of a system to help him complete it. Shipp Jr. keeps a spotlight on Shakur with recordings and live performances of the hit records, and the never-ending appearances of family, friends, and industry acquaintances keep their own tempo in the film. Afeni Shakur and a new lady in Tupac’s life ( daughter of music mogul Quincy Jones, Kidada Jones, played by Annie Ilonzeh ) meet in one scene after a series of events involving Shakur and multiple ladies of his life, and Shakur gets some post-fame, Motherly advice. The scene breaks the ice for Afeni’s role; she stretches from the old days of raising a child, struggling with drugs, and going to prison to enjoying the accommodation of her son’s success. For a surprise, Biggie ( played by Jamal Woolard, again like Notorious ) does not jump in as an archnemesis who goes against the heavily protected portrayal of Tupac and starts a East Coast v West Coast War, but rather, he comes as Tupac’s friend, allowing the film to zoom in on humble beginnings. Although this side of the relationship means you don’t get to see a full scene of “Hit ‘Em Up,” knowing that Tupac and Biggie shared the stage together and went to a party together afterwards makes you feel better about neither Biggie or Tupac, especially Tupac, being portrayed in any way, shape, or form as troublemakers who orchestrate murders or sleep with their friend’s wife. The portrayals of Suge Knight, Snoop Dogg, and Haitian Jack quite frankly merit a standing ovation, choking on popcorn, and all types of noises in a theater.
There are moments like the ones mentioned above such as the inclusion of Tupac’s music-to-film crossover that drifts away from the tight script. We get the special treat of Shipp Jr. in another role as he steps in as ‘Bishop’ from Tupac’s debut film, Juice. Although a camera appearing from behind the scenes has to roll around on the film to accomplish this, and makes you think of every other possible way that the film could have been mentioned without having a camera on a camera, it is brilliant. We get more film in a scene where Shakur and members of his entourage are sitting in chairs on the set of Above the Rim watching footage. It’s easy to long for Poetic Justice here ( John Singleton and the filmmakers really have to battle-rap or something ) just to deliver additional characteristics to Shipp’s blazing charisma as Tupac because with Poetic Justice, we have the possibility of hearing about Tupac’s crush on his co-star, Janet Jackson. Also, because that movie is great like all of them. Also, because Janet Jackson is great. Nonetheless, even without our beloved Poetic Justice, the movies are brilliant. Their spontaneity compliments both the real-life intensity of the music-to-film move and this depiction of his life that considers the breadth of his gift and talent. Scenes like these make the film’s moments easier to grasp when its pace feels like slipping away with them.
There is not a single scene that fans will not recognize, so some sense of relief from the grip on the film is employed here. The liberty taken with the selection of Tupac moments will give fans the just due of treating the biopic like a fan affair. Some fans will long to see other music-to-film moments alongside Juice and Above The Rim, like Poetic Justice. Some fans will long to see other Tupac interviews alongside the 1995 interview to assist in the all eyes on Shakur candidness, like pretty much all of his interviews, especially the MTV moments. To compare, or perhaps, even get one-up on the Biggie movie where all of Brooklyn was shown mourning his death at the fateful end, some fans will long to see a moment after Tupac’s death, like the memorial where his family and members of The Outlawz took to the beach with his ashes. Some fans will long to see more moments and hear more music, so the movie could be 4 hours and possibly be a miniseries like everyone’s favorite biopic, The Jacksons: An American Dream. By the end of it all, you can say, as they say, it’s the little things with All Eyez On Me. It is exactly a little thing like changes to the direction of the wonderful scenes selected, but it is exactly a little thing that needed to happen, at least for further security of the film. It is exactly organized as a film. It is exactly long-winded. It is exactly a biography on a music star. It is just not exactly unorganized as expected, or exactly long-winded as interestingly as expected, or exactly a biography on a music star who made his music and then talked a lot and changed into a music prophet as expected, or exactly Tupac himself as expected.
However many moments and music, the motive for the film is clear: to make a Tupac movie. It’s a clear and simple motive that kickstarts the biopics of most of our beloved stars. Unfortunately, the dire need to stick to this motive noticeably limits the film from reaching its potential as a revelation on who this Tupac guy is, why he made music about staring at things through his rearview, and why we ever needed a biopic to tell us this. With a 2 hour running time, perfect cast, and of course, all of the details of Tupac’s life and death, the potential for this film should have overruled the motive. In fact, the potential should have been to overrule the motive given the subject’s overwhelming difference from other subjects. Tupac’s persona was most definitely into waking up and deciding to create art like his 80s and 90s peers did, especially because he woke up in both Baltimore and California to do it. His legacy, though, much like what biopics set out to accomplish, is in his offset sacredness which inspired his every move, which may or may not include the very things which connotes the subject legendary to a lot of people. With Tupac, it just so happens to be both the music and the legend. Without both, much less a clear depiction of both, there is no Tupac or a clear depiction of Tupac. There is only a fly on the wall, stubbornly unwilling to acknowledge its surroundings.