(Rating: R – Genre: Biography, Drama, Music – Director: Benny Boom – Writers: Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez – Cast: Demetrius Shipp, Jr., Danai Gurira, Kat Graham – Runtime: 2 hrs. 19 min.)
All Eyez On Me follows the tumultuous life of legendary rapper and icon Tupac Shakur. Tracing his path of success from his early childhood and continuing all the way to his shocking murder, the film attempts to highlight key moments throughout Shakur’s personal life and career.
“Now who’s to say if I was right or wrong?/ To live my life as an outlaw all along”
At first blush, the most glaring issue is the pacing of the film. The first half-ish is presented in flashback form as Shakur (Demetrius Shipp, Jr.) is interviewed by a reporter while in prison. The ensuing vignettes switch tone and pacing on a dime. Danai Gurira’s “Afeni Shakur” is a prime example of the herky-jerky nature of the film. The presentation of the rapper’s mother schizophrenically shifts from being a political activist to loving mother to drug addict to voice of reason—and does so almost as if they are completely different characters. There no connective tissue to flesh out the arc. And I place no blame on Gurira. Undoubtedly, she is doing what was on the page in front of her. (Honestly, it’s the same with Shipp’s Tupac. The narrative changes gear at whim. One scene he is in court combatting rape charges. The very next, he is at a club with a harem of women. The tone of the character is painfully incongruous. That being said, it’s eerie how much Shipp physically resembles the fallen icon.)
Director Benny Boom’s conspicuous lack of attention to detail in regards to place and time only further pulls the viewer from the movie. (Example: Shakur is shown using an iPhone 7. Shakur was killed on September 13, 1996. The device debuted September 16, 2016.)
And while any dramatized film based on actual events will be guilty of this, actress Jada Pinkett-Smith made a special point to go public to point out that nearly everything was misrepresented or wrong concerning incidents between her and Shakur in the picture. (Pinkett-Smith and Shakur were friends in high school and stayed so for the remainder of his life.)
Also disappointing is Jamal Woolard’s portrayal of one-time-friend-turned-nemesis Biggie Smalls. His sallow performance of the deceased Brooklyn emcee is particularly disheartening because he turned in a far superior effort rendering the rapper in the Smalls biopic Notorious (1999).
Though wrought with a choppy script, specious authenticity and a bloated runtime of 139 minutes, the film is not entirely without merit. When Shakur’s music takes center stage, it hits. And it hits hard.
“Out on bail, fresh outta jail, California dreamin’/ Soon as I stepped on the scene, I’m hearin’ hoochies screamin’.”
When the work of Tupac, the real Tupac, is featured, it is a transformative experience. Framed by an otherwise dreary movie, the music pops in a substantial way. Shortly after being released from prison, Shakur is shown recording “California Love” at the Death Row studios. The electricity of the scene is palpable. Later, Pac performs the legendary dis track “Hit ‘Em Up” at the House of Blues in Los Angeles. It is the last time that the movie shows any sort of vibrancy.
“For every dark night, there’s a brighter day.”
All Eyez On Me is, unfortunately, a fatally flawed film. Cursed by a hacky script, trite direction, and spotty performances, on its own it never manages to do what the man its spotlighting did best.
It never soars.
While Tupac Shakur the Man was fraught with demons and had numerous run-ins with the law, Tupac Shakur the Icon represents the Voice of a People. That Voice isn’t limited to a time or location. Much of what he said then, applies now—and will still in another 20 years. The creative force behind All Eyez On Me made the unfortunate error of answering the question of “what” instead of “why.”
To quote Shakur, “I ain’t mad at cha.”
Check out contributor Rex Wall’s take on the film HERE.
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