‘All Eyez On Me’ Is a Flawed, Fictionalized Biopic of Tupac Shakur
Despite its anecdotal tone and clunky narrative style, “All Eyez On Me” takes a pull no punches approach toward this retelling of the manically complex and perilous life of dynamic hip-hop legend Tupac Shakur.
Although the misguided film was directed by Benny Boom, most known for his work on music video and television productions, the project’s premiere architect is music turned movie producer L.T. Hutton. Having personally known and worked with Shakur as a producer for the notorious Death Row Records label, Hutton reportedly based the narrative ethos of the film on Tupac’s own public statements. According to Hutton, “I created this system where you could ask any question about Tupac and you could find the answers directly from what Tupac said in multiple interviews.”
The film opens early in the artist’s life, focusing on his turbulent relationship with his activist mother, played by the magnetic Danai Gurira. Heavily involved with the Black Panthers’ movement in 1970’s New York, Shakur’s mother falls under the dark grip of drug addiction and desperately uproots Shakur and his sister several times, finally settling them in Oakland, Calif., where the budding artist lands his first big break with early 90’s gag rappers Digital Underground. Not long after his membership in Digital Underground takes root, the highly ambitious and talented Shakur sparks up a solo career as a recording artist with Interscope Records. After a series of legal problems culminating with a sexual abuse conviction and a highly publicized attempt on his life by unknown perpetrators, Shakur takes refuge with the Mafioso-style gang-boss founder of Death Row Records, Suge Knight. Under the aid and close watch of Knight, Shakur is released from prison and immediately ascends into the height of his Hip-Hop glory, recording the iconic double album “All Eyez On Me.”
The first two acts of the film suffer from a clunky narrative device where Shakur is being interviewed in prison by an objective journalist character — a blatant tactic to deliver factual information about the mega-star. The first half of “All Eyez On Me” feels too much like a dramatic reenactment of a low production value television documentary built around the singular purpose of delivering character exposition and generates little in the way of original dramatic point of view.
The film stars absolute newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr., who, despite his uncanny physical resemblance to Shakur and indisputable devotion to the role, at times seems to have been stretched too thin to convey substantial dramatic depth in each of the wide ranging stages of the brilliant and highly controversial man’s life, which the filmmakers perhaps reached too far to deliver. Shipp’s ambitious performance, as well as the film in general, does improve as the story locks into its emotional peak, centering on Shakur’s involvement with Death Row Records and his recording of the “All Eyez On Me” album. Though the film is flawed and some facts (including the rapper’s relationship with Jada Pinkett) are inacurate, the sequences surrounding Shakur’s time at Death Row and leading up to his untimely death do channel a sense of intimate knowledge of the atmospheric world and people closest to the iconic artist during this meteorically successful and tragic phase of his life.
Ultimately, “All Eyez On Me” may be remembered as a companion piece to the 2015 film “Straight Outta Compton,” which also gave much attention to the rise of Death Row Records. However, with a reputation as one of the most noteworthy artists on that label, and perhaps the greatest in the history of Hip-Hop music, the legacy of Tupac Shakur deserves something more than this.
“All Eyez On Me” rolls into theaters June 16.