Tupac Shakur will always be remembered for his incredible contribution to music. Before Hip-Hop became about attainment and wealth, the early front runners used music as a form of social awareness. The genre, always associated with violence and not without an aggressive tone, spoke of communities forgotten by middle America.
The rapper’s music, poetry, teachings, and videos are some of the most inspiring from the Hip-Hop movement. Yet the rappers ‘Thug Life’ image, personal life and criminal record make him a controversial icon. The contradiction of someone who spoke out on the cycle of violence for black Americans, yet was involved in altercations, makes him a fascinating subject.
His life and music are brought to the big screen in a biopic named after his fourth studio album, All Eyez on Me. Despite a wealth of material from his life and work, as well as an intense lead in Demetrius Shipp Jr. the film falls flat. Without a strong central narrative and jumping from the most controversial elements of his life, it does not create a deeper understanding.
From his early life growing up in inner-city neighbourhoods, to his rise in hip-hop fame. Tupac Shakur came from a socially active background. His mother and step-father were Black Panthers and he was shown the inequalities of the system early. Moving around with his at times unstable mother, Tupac discovered his talents for music early and began his ascent to fame. Despite his musical abilities, he is faced with corporal interference, personal struggles, and multiple run-ins with the law. As his music grows in popularity, his rights to his work are under threat as the rivalry between Hip-Hop gangs threatens his life.
The film is directed by Benny Boom, who is more known for his music videos than any feature film work. With many directors attached to the project throughout its development, (including John Singleton, who was approved by the rapper’s mother). His background makes him a commercial choice for such a project.
With the film, director Boom has pieced together the more known and frankly controversial moments of his subject’s life. He has not weaved a narrative from his work, interviews and life to create a better understanding of such a figure. The script is uneven, moving from poignant and strong (usually sections taken from the rappers interviews), to flat and forced. Many aims of the film do feel admirable: His family’s Black Panther background and highlighting the issues faced by inner-city inhabitants, but these are stated rather than shown through a solid story.
Like any self-respecting musical biopic, the film makes use of the Tupac’s ncredible music, from his early tapes, poignant songs such as Brenda’s Got a Baby to his worldwide hits. Not a seat will be still when California Love comes on, making the music is of course a highlight of the film.
Walking in to such a film anyone who grew up with Tupac’s music would have expected a Boyz N the Hood tone for his biopic. Coming from his background tonally such a film should feel gritty. Yet Boom has gone for an over stylized and unnatural look. Most noticeable are a scene in which Tupac meets a girl in a club, which turns into a music video. Also, the film’s last scene, which should be harrowing, but is disrupted by slow-motion, smoke and ill-fitting music. The director’s music video background shows here and not to the film’s graces.
In the lead role, Demetrius Shipp Jr. bears an obvious and striking resemblance to the man himself. At times within the film he captures the tone of the late rapper perfectly. His intensity, his movements, and his performance energy when he is seen on stage. Yet with a shoddy story, awkward direction, and a bad script, his efforts are wasted.
Danai Gurira is a force to be reckoned with as Tupac’s strong matriarchy mother but even her efforts are lost. In only a small role, Kat Graham plays actress Jada Pickett-Smith, a life-long friend to the rapper. Even with a cute opening dynamic, she feels misplaced and pointless to the overall story.
Despite focusing on one of the most talented and contradictory musical figures of our generation, the film fails to impress. Without a strong central narrative, and bad direction, All Eyez on Me is not the biopic such an artist deserved.
All Eyez On Me is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now!