All Eyez on Me

Review by Thomas Hobbs @thobbsjourno

Directed by

Benny Boom

Starring

Danai Gurira Demetrius Shipp Jr Kat Graham

Anticipation.

Tupac is seen as hip hop’s Malcolm X, with a dramatic life story ripe for the big screen treatment.

Enjoyment.

All eyez on something else; preferably Steve McQueen’s upcoming authorised documentary.

In Retrospect.

An obvious failure, with cheap production values and muddled editing.

This lamentable tribute to Tupac Shakur is an exercise in how not to make a music biopic.

There isn’t a rapper with a life story more worthy of a biopic than Tupac Shakur. From being raised by Black Panthers to embarking on a socially-conscious music career that somehow spiralled into a vicious contradictory gangster rap persona, Shakur packed a lot into his 25 years. To some he was a revolutionary who empowered black women, to others he was an incendiary criminal who was convicted of sexual assault. Unfortunately, All Eyez on Me isn’t crafted with enough skill to properly explore these contradictions.

The film opens at New York’s Rikers Island prison, where Shakur is serving a sentence for sexual assault – a charge he vehemently denied right up until his untimely death in 1996. Shakur is conducting an interview with a reporter and reflecting on his life story, but terrible editing stops this narrative structure from ever really working.

In the first five minutes alone, the muddled film’s flashbacks cover four different eras. In one scene we see Shakur as a small child, while in the next his mother Afeni (Danai Gurira, the film’s only saving grace) is high on crack cocaine. It’s as if director Benny Boom, who has spent his career directing music videos for the likes of Ja Rule and Nicki Minaj, was furiously reading the rap legend’s Wikipedia page on an iPhone off camera, desperate to cram in as much as humanly possible.

This stream-of-consciousness approach cheapens Shakur’s rich backstory. Under stronger direction, his Black Panther roots and radical anti-establishment streak – in 1993 Shakur shot two off-duty white cops, whom he claimed were racially accosting an innocent man – would have been at the beating heart of the story. As it is they are mere flutters.

Demetrius Shipp Jr certainly looks the part, but he lacks the rapper’s emotional intelligence or vocal authority. The film prioritises moments (such as Shakur filming the iconic “I don’t give a fuck” monologue from 1992’s Juice) that are already all over YouTube, which makes Shipp’s acting feel like an impersonation rather than an embodiment. In the few scenes that aren’t shot-for-shot recreations of televised moments from Shakur’s life, Shipp’s lines are cut off unexpectedly, as if editor Joel Cox is desperate to keep things moving. All good music biopics are built around their leads and All Eyez on Me doesn’t appear to have much faith in its Tupac.

Following the success of Straight Outta Compton, Hollywood is newly invested in telling hip hop stories. Yet All Eyez on Me lacks any of that film’s polish or heart. The dialogue is so stunted, Shipp’s Shakur is never given the chance to replicate the impassioned vocal rhythms of his inspiration. Dominic L Santana, who plays Death Row’s imperious CEO Suge Knight, is also so wooden you’ll start to wonder if the vicious man who once hung Vanilla Ice off a skyscraper was actually somebody else.

The supporting cast is plentiful, with Shakur’s relationships with actress Jada Pinkett Smith, jailed revolutionary-activist-cum-stepdad Mutulu Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. (distractingly reprised by Notorious actor Jamal Woolard, who is now 41 and looks nothing like an immature rapper in his early twenties; Biggie died at 24) all crammed in. But with so many intersecting storylines, it’s hard to really care about these friendships. They just aren’t given enough time to breathe.

When tacky gospel music rings out as Tupac bleeds to death following a drive-by shooting on the Las Vegas strip, you wonder what could have been had a more accomplished director and lead actor been given the opportunity to tell such an incredible story. The defiant last words of the real-like Tupac, who was also a formidable actor, to a patrolling police officer were “fuck you”. After two hours and twenty minutes, you’ll want to scream out the same thing.

Published 16 Jun 2017

Tags: Tupac Shakur

Anticipation.

Tupac is seen as hip hop’s Malcolm X, with a dramatic life story ripe for the big screen treatment.

Enjoyment.

All eyez on something else; preferably Steve McQueen’s upcoming authorised documentary.

In Retrospect.

An obvious failure, with cheap production values and muddled editing.

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