All Eyez on Me Directed by Benny Boom
Starring Demetrius Shipp Jr., Danai Gurira, Kat Graham
Published Jun 20, 2017In a career that lasted just under a decade, Tupac Shakur (known better as 2Pac) accomplished more than some artists would in a lifetime, becoming a defining figure not just of West Coast hip-hop, but the genre as a whole. Since his murder in 1996, Tupac has become a cultural icon that continues to inspire legions of MCs and creatives around the globe.
As happens with anyone of his stature, much has been made of Tupac's history, both in life and death. His musical output evinces both a poetic soul determined to change the world through his words and a hot-headed hitmaker who was fiercely loyal to his West Coast peers. It's hard to believe his eventful existence hadn't been made into a motion picture until now.
Benny Boom's All Eyez on Me is billed as "the untold story" of 2Pac, finally onscreen after years in development purgatory, but those who've done their homework are unlikely to find anything within the film that they didn't already know. On a basic level, the film is more of a visual chronology of the rapper's life from childhood to the drive-by shooting that took his life, moving to cram in as much as the whopping 140-minute runtime allows.
The film opens with Tupac (Demetrius Shipp Jr.) recounting his early years during a sit-down interview from jail with an unnamed journalist (Hill Harper). The framing device doesn't lend itself well to the ensuing flashback clip show that brings to life his embattled childhood, his friendship with Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham), his introduction to the industry with Digital Underground, acting in Juice and penning his striking first single, "Brenda's Got a Baby."
The speed at which the film glosses over these early career moments does a disservice to viewers who have little to no prior knowledge about its subject. And when All Eyez on Me isn't moving through a plot point, it's moving through it without any real depth. Shipp largely does well in his portrayal of the late MC, yet doesn't get much of a chance to interpret any states of being outside of his character's two extremes: charming or charged up. His Black Panther mother Afeni (Danai Gurira) is on screen as an activist, an addict and a source of advice for her son, cutting nowhere close to the core of a relationship that yielded a song like "Dear Mama."
Two particularly challenging moments of Pac's life story are also woefully tightened up for the film. The movie's depiction of Tupac's 1992 Marin City performance, where a stray bullet took the life of a child, fails to note that the gun was registered to him, while his 1993 sexual assault case paints the abused woman as someone taking advantage of the rapper, from her hotel room meltdown to her smug look at Shakur across the courtroom during the trial sequence.
Even the film's editing seems hastily cobbled together in numerous places. Overhead shots of cities set to 2Pac's music are all too commonplace when changing locales, and when it comes time to visualize Tupac's tenure at Death Row Records, the now-defunct label's logo zooms to the screen like something from a grade school PowerPoint slideshow.
The film's back half features an impressive performance from Dominic L. Santana as Death Row's big boss Suge Knight, channelling the man's anger and attitude into a very believable onscreen character, while Jarrett Ellis also nails the unmistakable voice of Snoop Dogg. However, plenty of other key characters from the Death Row years remain underwritten: Dr. Dre (Harold House Moore) never explains his split from the label to form Aftermath, while Kadida Jones (Annie Ilonzeh) provides no more than one last bit of romantic tension before Tupac is shot.
The uninitiated may take away an interest to dive deeper into Tupac's life and music after watching All Eyez on Me, which I suppose is the point, but much like 2009's Notorious and its portrayal of East Coast giant the Notorious B.I.G., it doesn't quite live up to the size of its subject. Here's hoping a future film can do his life and legacy better justice.