All Eyez on Me review
Back in 2009, Notorious followed the career of hip-hop artist Notorious B.I.G. and his eventual murder. While I enjoyed the movie’s look at the controversial star, it left more to be desired as he was more complex then the movie led to believe. It was also light on his friendship to Tupac. Tupac was his friend and rival, and yet, they had similar backgrounds. Both came from the ghettos of New York and both were intelligent people despite having no academic interest. What made Tupac different was that he had more of a political agenda with his music and felt that people had to step into his world before escaping it. You would think that Hollywood would want to tell Tupac’s story.
From what I could gather, a Tupac movie had been in development hell for years with filmmakers like Spike Lee and John Singleton slated to direct. A lot of the holdback has to do with Tupac’s mother who simply wanted her son’s story to be told right. That cannot be easy to do as her son’s work was considered so honest about urban issues that rappers and academics still study Tupac’s poetry. Is All Eyez on Me the Tupac story we’ve been waiting for?
We open in 1970 where Tupac’s mother Afeni Shakur (played by Danai Gurira) is a member of the Black Panthers and having been acquitted of charges related to the Panther 21 bombing planning, while being pregnant. Throughout Tupac’s childhood, he sees his mother as a role model as she continues to push issues for Black Americans and fight for a place to stay. Cut to Tupac (played by Demetrius Shipp Jr.) as a teenager who is moving around from Baltimore to Oakland, California as he continued to excel in drama and poetry while seeing that dark reality of his environment.
His talent for rapping encourages him to start recording where he’s seen as a representation for the ghetto, especially for Interscope Records who helps him record 2Pacalypse. The album was well received, but gained controversy as far up as Vice President Dan Quayle for is lyrics. Regardless, Tupac continues his image as a “thug” for the art and is eventually signed on to Death Row Records by Surge Knight. Tupac does his best to juggle his material, dealing with his various court charges, and talking with fellow artists like Notorious B.I.G, Puff Daddy, and Snoop Dogg.
Having listened to his music, I can say that there has to be a way to portrayed the complexity that this Tupac and All Eyez on Me is not that. Is the movie bad? Not exactly, but everything here feels safe, like it was produced by committee to ensure that a mainstream audience would like it. Given that the movie already hints at songs like “Brenda’s Got a Baby”, they should have gone all the way to show how dark Tupac’s world was to balance out the lighter scenes. The script feels more like a Wikipedia description of the rappers life without fully diverging into his personality.
Probably the best thing about the movie is Demetrius Shipp Jr. as Tupac. It’s not even because his performance is that good (though you can tell that he’s struggling with a screenplay that gives him little to work with), but that he look’s a lot like the late artist. The rest of the actors seem to be casted well, but ironically for the film’s long running time, I barely felt like that I got to learn much about anyone.
As far as the film direction is concerned, it’s a mixed bag. There are times when it can look really nice, especially during the concert sequences, but then other parts are like a TV movie for Lifetime. This really needed to be handled by a Martin Scorsese or the crew from Straight Outa Compton, just someone that could take a lot of the philosophical ideologies about Tupac and structure it better.
I’ll give this three albums of Tupac out of five. Maybe hardcore Tupac fans might get into this, but I have a feeling that they’re going to leave the theater wanting more. New combers will get most the events that happened, but will not learn much about his personality. If you really wanted to know the guy better, I’d say listen to his music and pick up a book before seeing this movie. If you see this movie and have the same thoughts, then “Holler if you Hear Me”.