MOVIE REVIEW: Tupac Biopic “All Eyez On Me”

The long awaited Tupac Shakur biopic, “All Eyez On Me”, finally hits theaters June 16 after years of preparation and work by various individuals including veteran music producer LT Hutton, a producer of the film and a key driving force behind the making of this film. The project saw several different directors come and go including John Singleton until veteran video director and budding filmmaker Benny Boom finally took the helm to ensure that the iconic life of the late great hip-hop and movie star was rightfully brought to the big screen. And it’s a film that – whether you choose to love or not – needs to be seen, and not only by die-hard hip-hop fans. The short but eventful and accomplished life of Tupac Shakur is one for the annals of history and this movie delves into all the icon from every angle.

The life of Tupac Shakur was one chock varying, seemingly opposing ideas, views, philosophies, and attitudes all thrown together inside of one persona. Consequently, the Gemini was different people at different times. Making a film about his entire life is more challenging than your average biopic and it’s easy to see why people have had creative differences along the way in bringing “All Eyez On Me” to fruition. At one moment Tupac could be a revolutionary figure trying to bring about change in a world full of oppression and the next he could be in thug mode living the life of the streets. He was also a poet and a fan of Shakespeare (which is referenced throughout the movie) and other intellectual philosophers which helped to round his thinking as he was surrounded by the troubles of inner-city life – truly making him the rose that grew in the concrete. Pac could also use his charm to uplight the ladies in “Keep Your Head Up” and then make his way through the “hoes” in “I Get Around.” Choosing which Tupac to bring to light in each scene must have been one hell of a task for the writers and the director.

All eyes are literally on newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr., cast as the role of Tupac, and ironically whose father Demetrius Sr. produced Shakur’s “Toss It Up” on the Makaveli LP. Demetrius Jr. is a dead-on Pac look-alike facing the difficulty of not only portraying the late star but doing it in his very first role as an actor. Before auditioning for this role, Demetrius was working for Dish Network and laid off from his position with the company. With the help of acting coaches and veterans like Hill Harper (cast as the journalist who interviews Pac throughout the movie) Shipp Jr. was able to eerily capture the attitude, emotions, and facial expressions of Shakur and really does an impressive job for an actor with no prior experience. LT Hutton and Benny Boom took a gamble in casting Shipp, however in watching the movie I feel that he rewarded their risk with a very convincing portrayal that will even please Pac’s loyal fan-base.

The story of “All Eyez On Me” isn’t just about the extraordinary life of a man who accomplished more in six years than most do in a lifetime. However if you think about the things you’ve accomplished in the past six years in comparison to Pac’s time on top, you’ll be pretty blown away by this feat. The movie also details the relationship that Tupac had with his mother Afeni Shakur and in some ways the story is about their ups and downs as well. While a touchy topic, I give the movie credit for its honesty in addressing Afeni’s substance abuse struggles. Yes, Pac spoke about it in “Dear Mama” but movie scripts of a sensitive nature generally mask darker realities. I mentioned the different sides of Tupac earlier and oftentimes those sides contradicted each other. The movie tackles these hypocrisies as well. For this reason, it differs from the hugely successful N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton. That movie – in my humble opinion – was too kind kind when it came to exposing the faults of the group members. Well, Dre and Cube were the producers so go figure.

“All Eyez On Me” is also an indictment against the music industry which basically gave up on Pac while he was serving time behind bars for the Ayanna Jackson rape case. The film’s prison scenes depict the hard and dreadful conditions of life at Rikers Island and as the movie points out, Pac was unable to make bail despite the millions in album sales and the movies he starred in. With his label nowhere to be found, viewers get to understand why he was so eager to go so hard for Death Row Records in the manner he did. Suge Knight was his ticket to instant freedom so it was sign to Death Row, live the life of a star or stay behind bars in a violent dirty prison. It seems like a no-brainer even though it was this decision that ultimately led to his death in Las Vegas in 1996.

I was disappointed that the movie didn’t dig deeper into the beef with Biggie Smalls and Bad Boy Records. Puffy barely gets a mention. Biggie, who is portrayed by Notorious’ Jamal Woolard, is fairly represented in the movie as it shows how close of a friendship he actually shared with Pac. When it came time to go into their falling out, the movie doesn’t give any new revelations as to why Pac actually believed Biggie set him up to be robbed at Quad Studios. It touches on the “Who Shot Ya?” song while Pac was in prison, but that’s about it.

Overall, “All Eyez On Me” is historically accurate (in a magazine kind of way) with the exception of the scene at The House of Blues where the film had Pac performing “Hail Mary,” which didn’t come out until after his death. It’s not a big deal but hip-hop heads will notice things like that. Another thing I found to be hilariously odd was that they had the real Snoop Dogg do a voice-over for his character. As for acting, aside from Shipp, Hill Harper and Danai Gurira (as Afeni) really rise to the occasion to give outstanding roles while the rest of the cast kind of just do their jobs. Suge comes off as a bit comical at times especially with the mafioso attitude in a scene reminiscent of Al Capone in “The Untouchables.” But make no mistake though, this movie is a must see for hip-hop heads and you’ll find yourself bobbing your head while busting out lyrics to some of your favorite classics. We all know how this story ends so, even though you’ll enjoy yourself, you will be sad as the night of September 7, 1996 is re-lived. That infamous moment that will always be a somber moment and “All Eyez On Me” doubles as a cautionary tale about decisions, discipline, death and destiny.

RIP Pac.

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