Directed by Benny Boom
Starring Demetrius Shipp Jr., Danai Gurira, Kat Graham, Dominic L. Santana, Jamal Woolard, Cory Hardrict, & Annie Ilonzeh
Film Review by Chris Olson
Dust off the wife-beaters and start up the Cadillacs it's time for another banging biopic, following in the formidable footsteps of Straight Outta Compton, director Benny Boom delivers the untold story of Tupac Shakur with a solidly made movie that gets consumed by its own excesses.
We've seen Phoenix Walk The Line, Hiddleston See The Light, and Boseman Get On Up, and that's just a selection of musical biopics which have littered cinemas over recent years. Now Demetrius Shipp Jr. dons a do-rag and steps to the mic as Tupac Shakur, a name mythical in the world of gangster rap and hip-hop. If you know nothing about the rapper and want to see All Eyez On Me without spoilers click away now.
Shakur's death is notorious in the music world, synonymous with the violent nature of the lyrics and the gang culture which is markedly present in many facets of the genre. So a film about his life and demise would seem to suggest a lot of promise, as the martyrdom his legacy has entered fits in with the racial tensions that are still a hot topic in Western society.
Unfortunately, unlike its predecessors such as the Eminem film 8 Mile, or the glorious Straight Outta Compton, All Eyez On Me loses all it's interesting plot threads along its journey, forsaking them for guns, bling, and a whole lotta tap tap clap hugs.
Beginning in Harlem in the 70's, we see Tupac as the son of a Black Panther activist (Danai Gurira), being raised in social squalor and political discontent. The police harass his family, especially when his step-dad becomes America's most wanted, and this anti-police rhetoric becomes one of the few throughlines that does make it to the end of the film, but packs nowhere near as much punch as NWA's struggles as seen in SOC. Sadly Gurira gets sidelined, even though her performance is easily the most impressive, letting the political themes to become secondary side effects from Tupac's gangster activities.
As Tupac's rise to stardom is revealed (pretty quickly to be honest), the audience is then treated to a broken record of booze, courtrooms, prison, beef with other artists and...yes...scantily clad women. The artistry of the man is unquestionable, a lyrical aficionado who can deftly quote Shakespeare and who also demanded the best quality in his work with painstaking determination.
Cinematically All Eyez On Me takes few risks. There are a lot of slow motion cigarettes being lit and dark recording studio booths, and the occasional news piece that interject the proceedings but this is largely solid filmmaking letting the events and mythology do the heavy lifting.
An uninspired screenplay drops clanging line after clanging line that is largely made up of N-words and childish posturing. Tupac's development never comes to fruition, leaving him regrettably as unsolved as his murder. There were a few cheeky lines which did deserve a laugh, such as Tupac's mum commenting on his partner's manners being the result of having been raised by "a white woman". There was also an engaging section where Tupac faces off with a judge regarding the lack of justice in the courtroom.
The saving grace of All Eyez On Me is the music. Most definitely a cinematic experience, the live performances are the only moments where the movie can be actually described as feeling "real" or "raw" (adjectives copiously thrown around by many characters in the film). Likely because these are the most authentic elements of the film, seeing the performer and feeling the heavy beats was an immersive experience, allowing Shipp Jr. to flex his performance muscles in stark contrast with the lacklustre scripted moments.
Given how much Tupac accomplished in his 25 years, and then posthumously, All Eyez On Me feels like an unworthy attempt to collate his tale. For an artist who was genuinely talented and remarkable, the movie of his life is tedious and impotent by comparison.