All Eyez On Me is a 2017 biopic about Tupac Shakur starring Demetrius Shipp Jr. as the late legendary hip hop artist and directed by Benny Boom.
It was a humid Tuesday night with the air still smelling of the scattered rain showers that had occurred only a few minutes before. A friend and I entered the movie theater, having heard the reviews that tore the movie down, having seen Jada Pinkett-Smith’s amazingly nice destruction of the film’s credibility and the feedback on social media. It was time to form my own opinion and after walking out…I felt empty. Not disappointed or angry, nor enthralled by the film. Just empty. Emptiness is not the feeling you expect to feel having seen a film about the most legendary and mythical figure in hip hop history, a man who has inspired artists like J. Cole and (quite literally…kinda) spoke to Kendrick Lamar in his dreams and on the final track of his album To Pimp a Butterfly.
All Eyez On Me fails to be anything more than a by the books, surface level, cookie cutter representation of a man that was more complex, contradictory and revolutionary than the film’s script showed, despite advertising that it was the “untold story” and as harsh as it sounds, it’s disrespectful to Tupac’s work and legacy.
The reality of the situation is that like Stephen King’s Dark Tower, Pac’s life and story are something no single adaptation can cover accurately or well enough to warrant its existence and this is evident from the way AEOM handles details about Tupac’s early life. Not only is the acting in the opening scenes of the film borderline laughable, but it is told via flashbacks as an excuse to skip through Tupac’s life like a game of hopscotch. New York living and the foundation of his love of writing? 3 minutes with a horrible child actor. Baltimore art school and friendship with Jada? Reduced to Shakespeare quotes and events that didn’t happen, all culminating into a move to the West Coast that doesn’t have the weight that it should. His stint with Digital Underground is also quickly glossed over as if it didn’t matter that they gave him his big break. Basic facts about Tupac’s history are even missed as Tupac is shown performing “Hit Em Up” and “Hail Mary” during the All Eyez On Me tour. It is infuriating and annoying when a biopic can’t even get the basic timeline correct. I literally rolled my eyes.
One positive thing that I can say is that Demetrius Shipp Jr. does a good job portraying Tupac from his mannerisms to his voice especially later on in his life. However, during his formative years, he seems to struggle. From an interview in ‘88, you can see that Tupac is a softer person than he was as a grown man and that character development does not show at all but I blame this once again on the script. Most of the actors do serviceable jobs with the material that they’re given, which is admirable considering lesser actors would’ve floundered…except Jamal Woolard as Biggie. He was trash. Sorry.
The thing about AEOM is that it seems rushed and like a television production made for BET. There is a scene where Big and Pac talk in a hotel room and the outside background isn’t even a real city. It is a flat, obvious matte painting of a city. Like…Empire Strikes Back hangar bay matte paintings weren’t even that obvious or that poorly done and that movie came out in 1980. This is a movie in 2017 about Tupac Amaru Shakur and a couple dollars couldn’t have been spared to shoot in an actual hotel room? Seriously? The production value of the film is questionable. Many times, I saw the glue holding Shipp’s wig or hairpiece to his head and it was very distracting and it’s in these moments that the film feels like a television movie rather than a studio-backed feature. (However, there are no iPhones anywhere, thank God.)
This is a major issue because two years ago, we witnessed a masterpiece of hip-hop biopic genius that was Straight Outta Compton and AEOM owes its very existence to the fact that SOC was as successful and beloved as it was. Is it a perfect movie filled with 100% facts? No? But does it tell stories about things you didn’t know, give insight into motivations, have a message and social relevancy? Yes.
AEOM feels like an attempt to cash grab and while it has a message about black leaders being targeted by “them”, it’s lost behind the subpar script and iffy acting. It is impossible not to compare AEOM to SOC because everything about SOC screamed epic and heart from the interactions between NWA to their dramatic concerts and cinematography. Tupac Shakur deserves just as epic a treatment of his story, not a gloss over of his life that reads like a Wikipedia entry.
What could have been done differently? Maybe give Tupac’s life a mini-series treatment. Six episodes, 90 minutes maximum on HBO. Enough time to expound and go through the man’s life in enough detail to actually capture who Pac was as a man, all sides of him from his intelligence, his honesty, his zeal, his poetic side, his love for his people to the darker parts of him that we may not have seen like his growing paranoia or the pressures he may have been feeling being as popular and high-profile as he is. There is so much to say about Pac, things that I wish the movie said. As a fan of the art and the culture, Pac’s influence on the rap game is unfathomable with rappers from T.I. and Jeezy to Cole and Kendrick citing him. His music is still impactful and the man was just simply put, an amazing artist with an ear for beats and a hand for the pen. It’s a shame he died as young as he did and it’s fun and depressing to imagine how he’d sound on a track with Kendrick, if he would’ve squashed his beefs and stayed out of trouble or eventually won an Oscar. We’ll never know, but what I do know is, even in death, all eyes are still on Tupac and his legacy.
All Eyez on Me receives 2 out of 5 stars.