Review: All Eyez On Me
As most hip-hop fans know, two of the most famous rappers in rap history were friends turned rivals. This rivalry would lead to a war of words that may have escalated into a shooting war that cost them their lives. Of course, the rappers I’m referring to are The Notorious B.I.G (Biggie Smalls) and Tupac Shakur. A lot of times when musicians create lasting work and die young, they are destined to sooner or later get the biopic treatment. Biggie received it in 2008 with the disappointing Notorious. Two years ago, gangsta rap pioneers NWA got one of the better biopics with Straight Outta Compton. Now it’s Tupac’s turn. The result, while not quite the full-fledged disaster a lot of reviews have made it out to be, is far closer in quality to Notorious than Straight Outta Compton.
The most significant problem with this movie is the same problem that plagued Notorious: it didn’t teach me anything about Tupac that I didn’t already know or couldn’t just as easily have learned from reading his Wkipedia entry. Musical biopics are hard to do well and even with the better ones (Walk The Line, the aforementioned Straight Outta Compton), there’s a certain predictability factor. That factor comes into play here as we get a greatest hits view of Tupac’s life from cradle to grave.
In some ways, this isn’t surprising. Director Benny Boom’s track record isn’t exactly stellar (previous efforts by him include Next Day Air and a direct-to-video SWAT movie). While there are many directors who improved drastically between films, this isn’t the case here sadly. Boom’s main background is in commercials and music videos and that’s apparent in the way a lot of this is shot. The film looks good. But the look covers up a lack of effective storytelling as is often the case in Hollywood.
Demetrius Shipp Jr takes on the role of Pac and whatever negative things you can say about the film, they’re not about his performance. He manages to give a decent turn as Pac. This will definitely open more doors for him.
Returning from Notorious is Jamal Woolard who plays Biggie. He’s also good and he shows the potential this movie could have. There’s one scene where Biggie and Pac discuss lyrics and Pac encourages Biggie to try doing some more socially conscious stuff. In some ways, this is an illustration of a view I’ve long had: While Biggie was the better MC, Pac was more diverse in terms of subject matter. He could do gangsta stuff as well as politically and socially conscious stuff while Biggie’s main milieu was the street.
As for the other actors, Kat Graham is attractive as Jada Pinket Smith albeit not as attractive as the real one. Dominic Santana goes over the top as record label exec Suge Knight and leaves me wondering why they couldn’t have gotten T Marcus Taylor who played him well in the aforementioned Straight Outta Compton.
The movie presents the facts that most fans will know: Tupac’s revolutionary background (his mother Afeni was a Black Panther), his interest in the arts as a child/teenager, his friendship with Jada Pinkett Smith, his career in both music and film, the shooting that wounded him in New York in 1994, the sexual assault charge that landed him a prison sentence and his getting bailed out by Suge Knight to record for Death Row records. The movie strongly hints that his signing with Death Row was a Faustian bargain, a view shared by many people.
The sexual assault charge, while not totally omitted from the story (how could it be?), is glossed over. It presents it as basically a gang rape and Pac was supposedly asleep when it happened.
The glossing over anything negative points to All Eyez‘s central flaw: by trying to make Pac a martyr, they eliminate a lot of things that made him interesting and would have made for a far more interesting film.
To illustrate the contradictions in Tupac Shakur, let’s examine two tracks off his 1993 album Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.*.*. One song “Keep Ya Head Up” has him encouraging women and criticizing men who abuse and disrespect women.
On the same album however is a song called “I Get Around” in which Pac basically treats women as sex objects.
If All Eyez On Me had looked at the inherent contradictions (the thug and player on one hand, the socially conscious man who cared about women on the other) it would have done its subject true justice.
When it comes to biopics of musicians, only a few really stand out from the pack. Most of them play mainly to hardcore fans of the artist, be it Buddy Holly, Loretta Lynn, Jim Morrison, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Biggie or Tupac. All Eyez On Me will draw in fans as it did me. But it’s left many disappointed and will likely continue to do so. If you’re looking for a visual Wikipedia look at the icon, you might like this. But if you want to really understand Tupac, you’d be better off spending the money on a few CDs or downloads.