All Eyez on Me

all-eyes-on-merev All Eyez on Me  (2017)    Summit/Drama    RT: 140 minutes    Rated R (language and drug use throughout, violence, some nudity and sexuality)    Director: Benny Boom    Screenplay: Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez and Steven Bagatourian    Music: John Paesano    Cinematography: Peter Menzies Jr.    Release date: June 16, 2017 (US)    Cast: Demetrius Shipp Jr., Kat Graham, Lauren Cohan, Hill Harper, Danai Gurira, Annie Ilonzeh, Keith Robinson, Jamal Woolard, Dominic L. Santana, Cory Hardrict, Clifton Powell, Jamie Hector, DeRay Davis.

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 I’m seeing a big discrepancy in reactions to All Eyez on Me, a biopic of slain rapper Tupac Shakur. The audience I saw it with applauded at the end. Most critics, however, are panning it, calling it one of the worst biopics ever made. I disagree with that, this movie is nowhere near as bad as 1989’s John Belushi biopic Wired. I will contend, however, that All Eyez on Me is no Straight Outta Compton. It’s still pretty good albeit flawed. It runs a bit long and it didn’t delve deep enough into the artist that became the voice of angry black youth.

 all-eyes-on-meTupac’s story is told within the framework of an interview he gave while incarcerated for sexual misconduct in 1995. We learn of his early life through a series of flashbacks that begin with his mother’s release from jail after being acquitted on charges of conspiracy against the United States (the Panther 21 trial in ’71). She was pregnant with Tupac at the time. Both his mother (Gurira, The Walking Dead) and stepfather (Hector, The Wire) were involved with the Black Panthers but he was raised primarily by his mom who encouraged him to use his mind and never fall prey to the traps laid by whites to silence black people’s voices. We follow Tupac, played by first-time actor and dead ringer Demetrius Shipp Jr., as he grows into a teen who loves performing Shakespeare. That is, until he and his sister are sent to live in California by their drug-addicted mothers. It’s there that Tupac joined up with Digital Underground and his career got off to a flying start.  

 Basically, director Benny Boom (Next Day Air) takes us through Tupac’s entire life and all the ups and downs he experienced before his shooting death in September 1996, a murder that remains unsolved to this day. Boom touches upon many aspects of Tupac’s life yet never really explores the artist with any real depth. Sure, we understand where he got his strong political and racial views. Yes, we see the beginnings of the East Coast-West Coast feud that pitted him against his former friend, rapper Biggie Smalls (who was shot to death just six months after Tupac). We also learn of the events that brought him into Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight’s inner circle. It’s all very compelling yet All Eyez on Me remains superficial throughout.

 I’m not a fan of rap but I’m well aware of Tupac’s prominence in the genre. I actually have a funny story about that. I visited Romania in late 2000. I stayed in Vaslui, a small provincial town where the last echoes of Communism (which fell in ’89) were still felt. I spotted graffiti that read “Tupac Forever”. I asked the person I was with about it and she said all the young people love Tupac. It amazed me that this aspect of Western culture made it to a town that didn’t even have a movie theater at the time. It shows how far-reaching his influence was even after his death.  

 Back to All Eyez on Me (named for his first album on the Death Row label). I realize that biopics, due to time constraints, can’t tell you absolutely everything about their subjects. For example, we never hear about Tupac’s brief marriage to Keisha Morris (they were married less than a year) or his work on John Singleton’s Poetic Justice (1993). Oddly enough, we do see him on the set of the lesser-known drama Above the Rim (1994) and the posthumously released Gridlock’d (1997).

 The acting in All Eyez on Me is decent. Shipp is very good in the lead role even if the screenplay fails to elaborate on the depth of Tupac’s character. He was an intelligent, introspective young man who had a lot to say about life in the hood. There’s one scene where he argues with record executives over the inclusion of “Brenda’s Got a Baby” on one of his albums. They think it’s too depressing; nobody wants to hear a song about a 12-year-old rape victim who has a baby, turns to drugs and prostitution and gets murdered. Tupac argues that it’s reality and everybody NEEDS to hear about it. Kat Graham (The Vampire Diaries) plays actress Jada Pinkett, a close friend of Tupac’s from the Baltimore performing arts school they both attended in the late 80s. The actress has come out against the movie’s portrayal of their friendship via Twitter. She claims that certain things, like him reading a poem to her before moving to California, never happened. I can only guess that it was done for dramatic effect.

 I have to disagree with my colleagues on All Eyez on Me. I thought it was a good movie. It held my interest throughout. It gave me a little more insight into Tupac; it should have given me a lot like Straight Outta Compton did two summers ago. I’m told that I should see the 2003 documentary Tupac: Resurrection if I want insight. I might just do that. In the meantime, I do recommend All Eyez on Me even if it’s not perfect and isn’t likely to convert non-fans. It’s still one of the better movies I’ve seen this summer. 

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