Developing a biopic involves many big choices. If a person’s life warrants a biopic then chances are there are a plethora of events that could be depicted cinematically. Recent successful biopics have shown the best method is to focus on specific events to illustrate a single aspect of someone’s life. Lincoln showed how the 13th amendment was passed. Selma focused on the events surrounding the titular march. Even Steve Jobs focused in on three specific product launches. The filmmakers behind these project looked at the entire life of their subjects and chose specific things to focus on in order to convey their life’s work in a 2-hour experience. Unfortunately for Tupac fans, All Eyez On Me has opted for the “throw everything at the wall and see if anything sticks” approach to biopic filmmaking.
Synopsis: All Eyez on Me sheds new light on the events behind the meteoric rise and tragic fall of charismatic rapper Tupac Shakur. Inspired by his activist mother and close high-school friend Jada Pinkett, Tupac embarks on a prolific and turbulent career marked by hit records, film roles, violence, imprisonment, bitter rivalries and a complex relationship with music mogul Suge Knight. Packed with Shakur’s incendiary music, All Eyez on Me tells the untold story of a prodigiously gifted artist cut down in the prime of life. (VVS Films)
Starring: Demetrius Shipp Jr., Danai Gurira, and Kat Graham
Writers: Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez, and Steven Bagatourian
Director: Benny Boom
Running Time: 140mins
Telling the story (the entire story, apparently) of the late rapper Tupac Shakur, your experience with All Eyez On Me will vary based on your familiarity with the real life events that inspired the film. For those who are unfamiliar, the idea of the film “just recapping Tupac’s wikipedia page” is not inherently negative. Experiencing a cinematic wikipedia page was very enlightening, learning the bullet points of Tupac’s life, listening to his greatest hits, and learning a little bit of American history from the 90’s.
For anybody familiar with Tupac’s life, or anybody looking for a satisfying cinematic story, All Eyez On Me’s wikipedia approach to storytelling leaves much to be desired. To be clear, it’s not that a biopic needs to ignore certain aspects of a subject’s life or make up things in order to tell a cinematic narrative. It is that biopics are more successful when a subject’s life and values are communicated via a singular event in that subject’s life (again, look at Lincoln and Selma). All Eyez On Me suffers the same fate as Black Mass. Does it tell the events of the person’s life as it actually occurred? Yes. Does that make for a satisfying three-act film? Not at all.
Again, the wikipedia approach ends up being enjoyable for aspects of All Eyez On Me. Shipp Jr. not only looks like the late rapper, but his performance is full of the passion Tupac was known for. Whether it be his interactions with the press or with family members, or his on stage mannerisms, He knocks it out of the park and this central performance goes a long way to make All Eyez On Me a better movie.
As expected, the best aspect of All Eyez On Me is the fact that the filmmakers gained the rights to use the actual music created in that time. Seeing that time frame with that music makes for an enjoyable time…if you are learning about Shakur during the runtime of the movie. The standout musical set piece is when Tupac joins Death Row records to record “California Love” with Dr. Dre. Much like 2015’s Straight Outta Compton, All Eyez On Me successfully depicts the raw energy that came when these artists laid down their tracks and it is electric.
While Shipp Jr.’s performance is passionate and the music makes for a head-bobbing good time, All Eyez On Me is sadly aimless. There is such a strong “bullet-point” feel to the movie. A particular scene will walk through a famous part of Tupac’s life, the scene will play out and fade to black, we then move on to the next paragraph of the wikipedia page.
There are two threads going through most of the film and either one of them could have made for a more successful film. On one hand, Tupac’s life story could have been filtered through his relationship with his mother (who is portrayed gracefully by Gurira). On the other hand, the film attempts to comment on the duality of Tupac’s message: leading a black revolution while also dealing with the hurtful stereotypes 90’s hip hop was struggling through. As the film currently stands, both of these story threads have powerful scenes, but they narrative is lost as the screenwriters seem bogged down by shoving in as many “behind-the-music” life events as they can.
For those not familiar with Shakur (who was recently the first rapper to be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame), then the first viewing of All Eyez On Me will make for an educational experience. Upon a second viewing, and this will be the experience for anyone remotely familiar with his story, the movie will only help bolster hip hop trivia aficionados. Shakur’s life story is a powerful one that deserves to be told and be told on the big screen. Hopefully someone will take another crack at it, only this time picking a central theme to his life and communicating it during a specific area of his life.