After the massive success of Straight Outta Compton, it was only a matter of time until another legendary rap figure would get the biopic treatment. The subject of many documentaries since his 1996 death, Tupac Shakur (who was featured in a brief cameo in Straight Outta Compton) was eventually due for a profile of his complex life story and vast musical accomplishments. The road to the big screen wasn’t easy though. During its five year development before filming began, the project went through a carousel of different directors and writers. Until late 2015, a director and unknown actor to play Shakur were set in stone and all that remained was to deliver cinematic justice to the rap legend.
I didn’t know everything about Tupac’s life before walking in to the theater. I listen to his music every couple days but aside from my previous awareness of his tumultuous stretch at Death Row Records and his death, I never bothered to research his full biography. Thus, All Eyez on Me felt like the golden opportunity for me and many others to get a good insight into his life. After a slow two and a half hours of haphazard filmmaking, disappointment was the only feeling that lingered.
The movie starts with Tupac being interviewed by a TV reporter in prison where he served time for charges of alleged sexual abuse. Time is then turned back to his early childhood where he was raised by parents who were members of the Black Panther party. The scenes with his parents are the easily the most emotionally engaging. The rest of life events portrayed in his life before prison are dreadful in their construction.
Early on it’s clearly established that the script was painfully underwritten in terms of scene length. There are jarring transitions in past sequences intercut with the prison interview and there’s no warning in terms of the dialogue where the movie signals the change. This is the most painful when Tupac discusses his relationship with Leila Steinberg, the woman who was his artist mentor and first manager of his career. Their scenes together last for not even a full minute, which rids any emotional attachment and understanding for a phase of Tupac’s life that is quite significant.
The aforementioned scene is of many that exemplify the film’s gaping flaw of rushing through so many aspects of the artist’s life. It’s understandable that he had an intricate life but at the same time it’s not a necessity to shove every little detail into the final product. The effects of that approach lead to horrible editing and inconsistent pacing, which are chock-full in the film’s first half. Only until his release from prison and subsequent controversial tenure at Death Row Records is where there’s the slightest resemblance of entertainment to be had.
There are two shining stars in the midst of this colossal miss and that’s the solid performances given by Demetrius Shipp Jr. and Danai Gurira as Tupac Shakur and his mother Afeni Shakur, respectively. Shipp was surely cast in the role because of his striking facial resemblance to the real-life 2Pac, but he equally matches that feature with nailing down the mannerisms and one-of-a-kind charisma that 2Pac carried throughout his life both on and off the stage. Gurira displays a wide emotional range as Afeni, who brought as much personal drama as she did compassion to Tupac’s life.
When watching All Eyez on Me, I longed for insight into the complexities of 2pac’s evolution as an artist and the occasional contradictions of the social impact he wanted to generate for each album. Instead it was a hapless biopic that completely lacked the style and charisma of one of rap’s most legendary figures.