When Tupac was at his height of popularity, I was in middle school. So I didn’t really get into Tupac’s music pas what I heard on the radio until I started getting tapes (yes, cassette tapes) from my friends and sneaking to listen to the unedited version in high school. Pac was raw, dynamic, and there’s a reason that he’s still talked about today. Unfortunately, All Eyez On Me doesn’t quite do the legend justice.
The film is like a patchwork quilt. From a far, you can see the full scope of Tupac’s life, but it’s made up of what feels like different films. It starts out framed by Tupac (Demetrius Shipp Jr.) being in the Clinton Correctional Facility in 1995, giving an interview to a journalist (Hill Harper) which allows him to talk about his life up until that point. We see how he comes from a leader and fighter in the Black Panther movement, Afeni Shakur (a stellar Danai Gurira). Which gives room for us to see how Tupac the revolutionary was influenced and raised by his mother.
The movie starts patching in odd or dispensable scenes as it moves toward the Tupac most people know, with his big break in the movie “Juice”. Perhaps the worst thing director Benny Boom could have done was recreate iconic scenes from films that the real Tupac starred in. As an audience, we automatically compare performances, and Shipp Jr. is no match. Yet, this happens multiple times throughout the film, continually throwing us off with each patch. The movie also camps out for a while on Tupac’s rape case in which he’s portrayed as wholly innocent in the matter.
It’s hard to believe that Tupac was only 25 when he passed because he did so much in his short time on Earth. If there’s one thing that the film does capture, it’s how a man can start out on one path in life and end on another. We see how his multiple court cases, the expenses that came with them, and the shady business of the hip hop industry itself led him to sign with Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana), the infamous owner of Death Row Records. By the time the movie gets to that point, we forget about the Tupac who set out to be a revolutionary and see a man who is fed up with the system and wants to get money because he needs it. That journey is fascinating to watch.
2015’s Straight Outta Compton set a high bar for hip hop biopics because the script, acting and direction were top notch. All Eyez On Me had nothing short of the same type of electrifying material but missed the mark on all levels by settling for a banal form of storytelling with a lead, who despite giving his all, only has brief moments of embodying the dynamic man who was Tupac Shakur. This is a rated R made for TV movie. It’s not bad for Netflix at home, but you might want to save your money at the theaters this weekend on this one.