UK Release Date: 30th June 2017
Runtime: 139 minutes
Director: Benny Boom
Writer: Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez, Steven Bagatourian
Starring: Demetrius Shipp Jr, Annie Ilonzeh, Danai Gurira, Dominic L Santana, Kat Graham, Hill Harper, Jamal Woolard, Jarrett Ellis
Synopsis: The journey of hip-hop icon Tupac Shakur is traced from his childhood as the son of a black nationalist to his place as one of the most memorable rappers of the 90s and, of course, his tragic death.
When it arrived a few years ago, NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton did an excellent job of appealing to everyone from hip-hop fans to those who had no idea Ice Cube had a career before Are We There Yet? and that awful xXx sequel. The same cannot be said for All Eyez On Me, which tells the well-known story of Tupac Shakur – who is often deemed to be the greatest rapper of all time. It’s a film that cannot be faulted for its exhaustive depiction of every major event in a man’s life, but lacks in substance and feels like a surface reading of a man that most people know already.
Tupac (Demetrius Shipp Jr) is born in New York City to a mother (Danai Gurira) who is an active member of the Black Panthers. After spending some time studying at college in Maryland, where he meets close friend Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham), he becomes part of the rap music scene. He rapidly rises to fame with his politically-charged lyrics and on-stage persona, but ultimately ends up spending some time in prison. When he is released, he signs with Suge Knight (Dominic L Santana) at Death Row Records and becomes engaged to fashion designer Kidada (Annie Ilonzeh). He also gets himself embroiled in the east coast-west coast rivalry with New York-based rappers, including the Notorious B.I.G. (Jamal Woolard).
When discussing All Eyez On Me, you have to start with Demetrius Shipp Jr’s central performance. His physical resemblance to his subject is genuinely remarkable and he is able to construct a good performance. There’s a sense that Shipp really appreciates and understands Tupac, which enables him to deliver a turn that’s at least several notches better than the film’s script, which is so focused on shoving in every tiny detail of Tupac’s life that it forgets it also needs to create a compelling person at the heart of the story.
There’s no substance whatsoever to All Eyez On Me. It whizzes through all 25 years of Tupac’s life without ever pausing to catch its breath or examine anything about its subject. Anyone without detailed knowledge of the schisms, highlights and lowlights of 90s hip-hop will likely be left every bit as all at sea as I was by the politics running underneath every diss track and media interview. It’s a film that expects an awful lot of prior knowledge from its audience and doesn’t spend much time laying the groundwork for non-fans. Even the clumsy journalistic framing device doesn’t clear the muddy waters.
This unintentional complexity carries through to the supporting cast. All of the ancillary characters are drawn as thumbnail sketches, without anything to deepen them. It’s tough to understand how and why these characters affect Tupac’s life or where they fit into the story. The film’s lack of focus means that characters drift in and out of All Eyez On Me seemingly at random and none of them are given any room to make an impact. It’s as if they are merely boxes on a checklist for hip-hop devotees in the audience making sure that everything is there.
All Eyez On Me, though, does have some flickers of impressive imagination. The scenes of Tupac performing live have an intimacy to them that really makes them pop and there is some insight as to the inspiration behind some of the music. Unfortunately, these brief moments of real enjoyment are rather sparse in a movie that is pushing two and a half hours long. Director Benny Boom, whose name sounds like a Michael Bay character, is obviously reaching for epic and definitive with his take on Tupac, but he reaches too far and ends up hitting a real bum note.
Pop or Poop?
As someone for whom Tupac is a semi-mythical figure rather than a hip-hop artist, I found little about the man behind the headlines in All Eyez On Me. Demetrius Shipp Jr does stellar work with the role of a lifetime, but the script isn’t up to scratch and produces a bloated drama that flies through a life without ever pausing for breath.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.