Tupac Shakur was a rapper and actor who was born in East Harlem, NY in 1971, and died in Las Vegas in 1996 at age 25. He was incredibly prolific in his short life, releasing multiple albums and appearing in seven movies. Because he was such a skilled rapper, a magnetic person, and was killed so young, a movie was inevitable. There has already been a documentary made called Tupac: Resurrection, that was released in 2003.
A biopic has been in the works for some time, and finally we have All Eyez On Me. Originally it was going to be directed by John Singleton (who had written Baby Boy for Tupac, but went with Tyrese after Tupac’s death). However, Singleton had some creative differences with the production, although did have the full support of Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s mother. Tupac was a fascinating man, and deserves to have his story told in a really well-made epic movie. This however, is not that movie.
The movie starts with a reporter interviewing Tupac while he was in prison from 1993 to 1996 as the result of a sexual assault charge – of which he continually said he was innocent. The interviewer asks Tupac questions about his mother, Afeni, who was released from prison after defending herself as she was pregnant with him. Through the device of the interview – we get snapshots of Tupac’s early life in New York, interacting with his mother’s Black Panther Party friends and colleagues, then moving to Baltimore – where he struck up a friendship in high school with Jada Pinkett. His mother’s drug troubles began, and suddenly Tupac and his half sister had to move to Los Angeles, where his career began to take off as he started as a roadie, background rapper/dancer for Digital Underground.
The movie then stays with the interview, right up until Tupac tells the reporter how he ended up in prison, then that mode of storytelling is dropped when he gets released and the movie shifts to a more ‘normal’ narrative as we follow Tupac signing with Death Row records in L.A., interacting with Suge Knight, being friends with, and then enemies with Biggie Smalls, and continuing both his rapping and acting careers. The movie does not mention his first marriage at all, but does bring in Kidada Jones, who he was engaged to at the time of his death. The movie goes right up until he was shot in Las Vegas, and then mentions that he died in the hospital a few days later.
This movie is directed by Benny Boom, whose previous experience is mostly music videos – and it is not badly directed, and it’s not badly acted, but it does seem to be assembled and written poorly. The movie jumps from event to event, and really attempts to fit in way too much in the two and a half hour runtime. This results in skipping some pieces of his life, and having several characters show up with little to no introduction, be key for a few scenes, then disappear. Because the movie attempts to cover so much, it really would have been better served by being a TV mini-series, similar to the New Edition story earlier this year. The cast is decent:
- Demetrius Shipp Jr., whose father actually did work with Tupac, plays Tupac, and he really does look like Tupac. He does a good job with what is written, but because Tupac was so charismatic, he falls a little short, which is only really noticeable once the movie plays a clip of an interview with Tupac over the end credits.
- Danai Gurira plays Afeni Shakur, and Tupac’s relationship with his mother is complicated and well documented. Gurira does a good job of attempting to show how strong and determined Afeni was early in life, then the struggle as she encounters her drug addiction, and her return to strength after reconciling with Tupac. Again, it’s a little overly dramatic here and there, but she does well with what she was given.
- Kat Graham plays Jada Pinkett, prior to her being Jada Pinkett-Smith. Jada has come out and stated that several scenes in this movie are fictionalized – but that she appreciates the performances of both leads. I’m not surprised that scenes were invented – it’s not a documentary, it is a movie, but I did think their friendship is portrayed pretty well.
- Hill Harper plays the interviewer in prison – and I just could not wrap my head around the fact that was the storytelling device for the first half of the movie, but then completely dropped for the second half. Harper’s job in this consists of asking questions and looking very interested as Tupac answers.
- Annie Ilonzeh plays Kidada Jones, and the movie doesn’t really explain why she fell for Tupac – we see them have one interaction at a party, where she accuses him of saying horrible things about her father, Quincy Jones, and then one date, and then they seem to be engaged. As I said, the movie has to move really fast to get everything in that they wanted to cover.
- Keith Robinson plays Atron, Tupac’s early manager prior to his signing with Death Row and he may have been my favorite character in the movie. He tries to be the voice of reason early in Tupac’s career and tries to steer him away from making bad decisions.
- Jamal Wollard who played Biggie in Notorious does reprise the role here, and the movie really makes him seem unintelligent and confused most of the time.
- Dominic Santana plays Suge Knight, who really could be the subject of his own movie some day because he’s such a villain featured in both this and Straight Out Of Compton. In particular in this movie, he has a Death Row dinner party and beats a dude during dinner for not being loyal enough while Tupac and Snoop look on uncomfortably. I did have an issue where at first I thought he was wearing a terrible bald cap, but then I thought maybe his head was just weirdly wrinkly.
- Cory Hardrict plays Nigel – and Nigel is one of the characters who shows up out of nowhere, starts getting Tupac some money, then seems to set him up for the crime that he would eventually go to jail for, then disappears.
Overall, the movie is interesting, but way too long, and just not as well executed as it could have been. It's a hard R, thanks to the language, violence, and naked groupies. It really did need to be a miniseries so that more of the story could be told in better detail. I wasn’t a huge Tupac fan, but I did respect his ability, talent and charisma. I learned a few things from this movie – but some of the characters and stories that happen could have used some more development. No, it’s not completely accurate, but it’s worth a rental.
5 out of 10 – too long, and poorly written, but decently acted and directed.
Bonus, Poetic Justice - a movie I really enjoyed, that Tupac is really good in, but was not mentioned in the movie at all...