Pegged as the untold story of Tupac Shakur, All Eyez On Me had a lot to live up to considering the recent success of Ice Cube’s Straight Outta Compton, and Tupac’s impressive acting legacy.
With one of the most enviable music libraries a film could ever have access to, and Tupac’s mother Afeni Shakur signed on as executive producer, it had the hallmarks to be a success.
Covering Tupac’s life from birth, and delving into his family’s many facets, the film had potential to build real gravitas with the characters on offer. Stepfather Mutulu Shakur was glazed over in a blaze of glory, and his younger sister barely featured. Granted, Afeni did play a bigger role, and her struggles with drug abuse were covered considerately, but the character development was lacking. Danai Gurira does a wonderous job, but the script doesn’t quite give her enough to work with.
All Eyez On Me sets out to show Tupac as a modern day Black Panther, a street poet and revolutionary. When you realise his mother, one of the original Black Panthers produced it, it’s quite easy to tell this is the version of her son she wants the world to remember. She’s not erasing his bad habits, or court cases, or prison time, she’s just re-framing them with her own justifications for his behaviour.
It’s an unfortunate thing that Straight Outta Compton was cast so spectacularly, because the cast of All Eyez On Me just fails to hit the same marks. Snoop Dogg might sound exactly like Snoop Dogg, but the visual isn’t right. And Dominic L Santana just isn’t hard enough to pull off Suge Knight, it’s not believable. Jamal Woolard, despite having portrayed Biggie Smalls in 2009’s Notorious has zero screen presence.
Demetrius Shipp Jr. (whose father worked at Death Row Records with Tupac) does bear an uncanny resemblance, we cannot deny him that. But frankly, I would have preferred someone who looked a little less like ‘Pac, but with a touch more of his swagger and acting ability. Everything seems half a beat out with Shipp Jr. The stage shots are just a tad awkward to watch, it’s like he doesn’t have full command of his body. The vocal dub is ever so slightly out of line with his actual mouth, and if you’re partial to noticing things like that, it’s a painful scene to watch.
There is a strange narratorial structure that just disappears mid-way through the film, it makes sense in the context of Tupac recounting his life for the first part of the film, but when that structure is gone, you miss it. There is a gratuitous slow-motion shot of Shipp Jr. in the recording booth – without any vocals, which is one of the strangest things I have ever seen in a film, to be perfectly honest, I thought there was something wrong with the playback when it began, but when it keeps going you realise it is strangely intentional, and just plain awful. You’ll know the shot when you see it.
The final 10 minutes of the film should have had intense gravitas, you are seeing the final moments of his life, but it isn’t shocking. It doesn’t blow you away. There isn’t enough built of Shipp Jr. to endear any kind of emotional connection to the character. The world still grieves the loss of Tupac, but it will not grieve the loss of Shipp Jr.
All Eyez On Me isn’t a bad movie. If it had been made two or three years ago we would have been delighted by it. Maybe even wooed by its street sensibilities and fantastic soundtrack, but the reality is we’ve had better, and will have better again.
Dir: Benny Boom
Scr: Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez, Steve Bagatourian
Starring: Demetrius Shipp Jr, Danai Gurira, Kat Graham, Annie Ilonzeh, Dominic L. Santana
Prd: LT Hutton, David Robinson, James G. Robinson
DOP: Peter Menzies Jr
Music: John Paesano
Run time: 135 mins