All Eyez on Me: Tupac biopic fails to live up to the hip-hop legend

Edges are duly smoothly and tricky questions are never posed

Demetrius Shipp Jr in All Eyez on Me. Photograph: Lionsgate

Film Title: All Eyez on Me

Director: Benny Boom

Starring: Demetrius Shipp Jr, Kat Graham, Lauren Cohan, Hill Harper, Danai Gurira

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 140 min

Fri, Jun 30, 2017, 12:51

   

Tupac is in Cuba, partying with Rihanna. Tupac is on the golf course, having served two terms as the 44th President of the United States under the pseudonym Barack Obama. The CIA are harbouring Tupac as government witness.

True ’Pac believers may well feel short-changed by Benny Boom’s respectful primer. There are no outlandish conspiracy theories underpinning All Eyez on Me, although Suge Knight is seen to walk away from the injured Tupac on the night of September 7th, 1996 (when the rapper was fatally injured in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas). Is Knight seeking medical attention or fleeing the scene?

The film trips through details from the rapper’s life using an encounter with a journalist from 1995, at a moment when Tupac is serving time for sexual abuse, charges he would deny until his death.

It’s an eventful existence from the get-go. His mother, the Black Panther activist Afeni Shakur, is released one month before his birth, having been acquitted of more than 150 charges in the New York Panther 21 trial.

Growing up in Harlem, Tupac acquired a taste for performance, jazz, ballet, and Shakespeare in particular. The family relocated to Baltimore after his stepfather, Mutulu Shakur – a proponent of the Republic of New Afrika – went on the run (spending the next four years on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list).

In Baltimore, Tupac would befriend Jada Pinkett (later Pinkett-Smith). The pair would remain life-long chums and here, as essayed by Kat Graham, she assumes a Jiminy Cricket role to Demetrius Shipp Jr’s Tupac. His transformation into the iconic, bandanaed Thug Life idol brings other music business notables - including Biggie Smalls (Jamal “Gravy” Woolard), Dr Dre (Harold House Moore) and Snoop Dogg (Jarrett Ellis), and Suge Knight (Dominic L Santana) - into his life, at least until the ridiculous machismo of the East Coast-West Coast rivalry reaches murderous proportions.

He remains close to his mom (Danai Gurira), who continues, commendably, to speak in fluent anti-US-imperial-ese, despite her difficulties with addition, and strikes up an unlikely romance with Kidada Jones, despite having once denounced her father, Quincy Jones, for “(making) f*cked-up kids” with “white bitches”.

Benny Boon’s film channels these biographic details through an impressive ensemble of actors. Shipp Jr, the newcomer who landed the Tupac role, has swagger, charisma and looks the part. In common with the 2015 biopic, Straight Outta Compton, All Eyez on Me lightly touches on a larger history. Still, though perfectly entertaining, this long-awaited film fails to coalesce into three acts as neatly as its NWA rival, and also to articulate Tupac’s many fascinating contradictions.

Edges are duly smoothly and tricky questions are never posed. We’re never confronted with the artist who could rap “I’m hittin’ switches on bitches like I been fixed with hydraulics” and “And since we all came from a woman / Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman / I wonder why we take from our women / Why we rape our women, do we hate our women” in different songs.

Conflicts are broadly drawn. See Tupac shaking with anger upon overhearing Biggie’s “Who shot ya?” in the prison yard, or his debate with the whiteys at the record company (“Well, Interscope was founded as a haven for artistic expression.”) over the coruscating Brenda’s Got a Baby.

The film has been denounced by both 50 Cent and Jada Pinkett-Smith for perceived inaccuracies. But really its reverence and sketchiness that gets between the viewer and the subject. Tupac himself is far more forthcoming and self-deprecating in the superior Oscar-nominated 2003 documentary Tupac: Resurrection. Fanz will be happy, nonetheless.