All Eyez On Me Review
By Rich Cline
There’s a clear sense that this Tupac Shakur biopic is hoping to build on the momentum that started with Straight Outta Compton but, despite an even stronger story, this film pales in comparison. The writers and director never quite get a grip on their subject matter, including far too many inexplicable events and unidentified characters. This means that audiences unfamiliar with Shakur’s story will struggle to engage with people and events that lack context and resonance.
Raised by his activist mother Afeni (The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira) in New York, the gifted Tupac (Demetrius Shipp Jr.) starts studying music, acting and dance at art college with his best friend Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham). Then the family moves across the country to Northern California, where he becomes more politically active and starts rapping. Mistreated by his record company, his hot temper lands him in prison, after which Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana) brings him to Death Row Records. Amid rising fame and fortune, Tupac becomes caught up in an East Coast/West Coast feud with his former friend Biggie Smalls (Jamal Woolard), which takes a fatal turn.
With a story like this, it’s odd that the filmmakers opt for such a saintly portrayal of Shakur, completely ignoring his personal life. He seems bizarrely asexual, even when surrounded by near-naked women, and his relationship with fiancee Kidada (Annie Ilonzeh) is non-existent. This is largely because the film’s narrative is little more than sequence of moments in Shakur’s life jarringly edited together without much connection between them. People wander in and out of these scenes in vast numbers, with some recognisable as famous figures but most just a blur. So the through-line of Shakur’s life is a choppy stream of artistry, anger and violence. If the sound mix made it possible to decipher his lyrics, maybe more of this would make sense.
In his first performance, Shipp is excellent, bringing plenty of energy and charisma to the role. The musical performances are remarkably involving, even if Tupac remains oddly enigmatic as a movie character. The filmmakers touch on but never explore the irony of this artist whose petty grudges and violent outbursts undermined his positive, humanist message and ultimately got him killed. This personal journey is what makes Shakur’s story and music so compelling, and it’s completely missing from this film. Instead we get a clipped outline of a musician’s tragically short life. It’s moving simply because it’s Tupac Shakur, but the movie never quite gets around to reminding us why he was so important.
Starring: Demetrius Shipp Jr. as Tupac Shakur, Danai Gurira as Afeni Shakur, Kat Graham as Jada Pinkett, Jamal Woolard as Biggie Smalls, Dominic L. Santana as Suge Knight, Annie Ilonzeh as Kidada Jones, Lauren Cohan as Leila Steinberg, Cory Hardrict as Hatian Jack, Grace Gibson as Faith Evans, Desean Jackson as Street Entrepreneur, Brandon Sauve as Ted Field, Josh Ventura as Tom Whalley, Azad Arnaud as Daz, Harold House Moore as Dr. Dre, Khadija Copeland as Queen Latifah, Chanel Young as Aunt Linda, Chris Clarke as Shock G., Ronald Brooks as Money B., Hamid-Reza Benjamin Thompson as Ronnie, DeRay Davis as Legs, Bruce Davis as Black C.O., Keith Robinson as Atron, Gary Weeks as Attorney