All Eyez on Me
2017, R, 140 min. Directed by Benny Boom. Starring Demetrius Shipp Jr., Danai Gurira, Kat Graham, Annie Ilonzeh, Hill Harper, Jamal Woolard, Dominic L. Santana.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 23, 2017
A giant music legend such as Tupac Shakur deserves a much better overview than provided by this fictionalized, by-the-numbers biopic. All Eyez on Me is at once too literal and too vague to amount to much of an informative, or even hagiographic biography of the rapper. Instead, the film just plods from one incident to the next, beginning with Shakur’s mother Afeni (Gurira), a Black Panther emerging from jail with her yet-to-be-born son still in her womb, and continuing all the way to the rap icon’s still-unsolved murder in Las Vegas, at the age of 25. Only in the post-credits do the filmmakers fully list the amazing amount of work Shakur created during his brief time on Earth. The artist’s intellectual and political foundations are demonstrated along with his “Thug Life” credo and lifestyle, but the result is a dualistic, rather than truly complex, portrait of the man.
Given the years and struggles that have passed while myriad filmmakers and actors have tried to get a Tupac movie made, I suppose it’s a bit uncharitable to dis the movie we finally have before us. Yet, All Eyez on Me is not likely to satisfy either contingent of viewers: the ones who come to be schooled in the man and the myth, and those who come to bask in his memory. Acclaimed music video director Benny Boom piles one event in Shakur’s life story upon another with little discernment for their key emotional and dramatic elements. The film’s 140-minute running time often seems to last longer than Shakur’s brief life. The screenplay by Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez, and Steven Bagatourian structures the narrative as a dialogue between Shakur (Shipp Jr.) and an unnamed interviewer (Harper) who comes to record sessions with the rapper in prison. The interviewer prods his subject with questions about the sexual-abuse charges and endemic industry violence that still hang over Shakur’s memory, but the film never really satisfactorily answers any of these, or other, thorny issues. Post-release, figures such as Jada Pinkett Smith and 50 Cent, who knew Shakur, have decried the film for having dreamed up scenes that are presented as facts. One thing, however, is not debatable: the outstanding performance of Demetrius Shipp Jr. Not only does this newcomer bear a striking resemblance to Shakur, but his rendering is full of passion, fury, and deft strategies. There is little doubt that, in the future, all eyez will be on Shipp Jr.