Film Review: All Eyez On Me

by Dakin Hardwick on June 16, 2017

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Demetrius Shipp, Jr. as Tupac Shakur, with Kat Graham as Jada Pinkett. Yes, they really were best friends!

The full name of the film is All Eyez On Me: The Untold Story of Tupac Shakur. It’s an ambitious premise for a film about one of the single most well documented figures of the last 30 years. There may have been superstar rappers before 2pac, but 2pac was the first superstar rapper since the dawn of the 24 hour news cycle. All of the highs and lows of his career were narrated by Kurt Loder on MTV News. So, really, how much of his story is actually “untold”? How will director Benny Boom find a new story to tell about one of the most talked about figures in modern history?

Surprisingly a lot, actually. The film begins with Shakur, in jail in 1995, talking with a reporter about his life. This takes us back to 1971, when his mother, activist Afeni Shakur, is released from prison, pregnant with Tupac. This takes us through his childhood, a life where he is raised by political activists who were always on the run from the FBI, moving from New York City to Baltimore, and eventually settling down in Oakland, CA. This is where Tupac begins working on his life philosophy, trying to find that balance between the revolutionary activist that he was raised to be, and learning how to bridge that with “gangsta” culture that surrounds him.

The first half of the film really concentrates on Tupac, the sensitive poet who writes about the voiceless people, working to amplify their stories; he is determined to empower not only himself, not just his community, but anyone struggling that isn’t being listened to. We see his mother’s struggle with drug addiction, and his own experiences with law enforcement as a young, black male. And then we see him rise up, first with the legendary hip hop collective Digital Underground (credit to Chris Clarke for perfectly emulating both Shock G and his alter ego Humpty Hump effortlessly), and then through the ranks of the major label system. In fact, the entire first half of the movie is a stunning film about fighting for civil liberties in the face of oppression, and puts a vivid, human face on the police brutality epidemic that continues to plague us.

Then Suge Knight shows up.

I can’t really say that the movie falls apart here. It actually holds together nicely. The problem really lies in the fact that, once Suge shows up, the narrative changes completely. Tupac is, at this time, a massive star. He’s making movies. His records are big. Yet, we begin to fall into the same story that nearly every music biopic falls into: the artists’ record label isn’t paying out their royalties like they should, and then everything starts crumbling because they aren’t getting the support they need. Demetrius Shipp, Jr., pulls off the transformation from shy poet Tupac Shakur, to Death Row Records’ 2pac rather nicely. I spent most of the film forgetting that 2pac wasn’t actually on screen. But the story proceeds to get cluttered from here.  You understand why 2pac signs on with Suge Knight, but a lot of other things aren’t really explained. The film forces the infamous 2pac/Biggie feud (Jamal Woodward reprising his role as Biggie Smalls from 2009’s Notorious) without us really understanding why they hate each other so much. It makes it harder to empathize with 2pac because he seems to be so consumed by this feud that he totally loses sight of his mission. The determination to be a massive star overtakes the mission to be a voice for the voiceless, and the excesses of stardom begin to take their toll.

Where this film goes above the traditional biopic is that, despite the excesses of fame, Shipp manages to keep letting the humble, thoughtful side of Tupac bubble under the surface. All Eyez On Me takes us through the heart and mind of one of the most influential, controversial, and enlightened minds, and lets us see how it ticks, warts and all. It may have tried to cram a little too much of 2pac’s life into one film, but it still is a fantastic movie.


All Eyez On Me opens everywhere on Friday, June 16th. On what would’ve been his 46th birthday.

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