Movie Review: All Eyez on Me (Spoiler Free.)
All Eyez on Me is an engaging but uneven biopic about rap superstar Tupac Shakur.
The life of Tupac Shakur was incendiary and brief, marred by bombast and excess, and punctuated by moments of violence and transcendence. The dramatic film adaptation of his story is much the same way. The film was directed by Benny Boom but passed through as many creative influences as Tupac’s own career. The conflicting tones and pacing seem to reflect all of the voices vying to shape this story. The movie manages some excellent moments despite the chaos surrounding it. It certainly seems that art imitates life in that regard.
All Eyez on Me (2017).
Incarcerated in a maximum security penitentiary for a crime he maintains he never committed, Tupac Shakur tells his story to an interviewer. His narrative traces the influences that shaped his rebellious adolescence and troubled home life, through his early career and sudden rise to fame as an actor and musician, and to the life of excess that landed him in prison. Upon release, he reinvents himself while trying to forge a new path, all while being tempted into his old life of violence and vendettas that will eventually lead to his tragic death.
“Young Black Male”
My biggest impression from watching All Eyez on Me was that the film is powerful in places but uneven. That certainly holds true of the main star Demetrius Shipp Jr. Shipp Jr. channels the look and swagger and physicality of Tupac very well. His on-stage performances are exciting and evocative, though problematic. The one aspect of his performance that I balked at was his barely passable lip-syncing, which make many of his well-choreographed routines seem like foolish pantomimes. When it comes to his dialogue, he seems able but constrained by the nature of the dialogue itself.
The rest of the cast seems likewise afflicted by the clunky dialogue. Danai Gurira plays Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s mother, and she gives a passionate performance. She emotes fiercely and has real rapport with Shipp Jr., but the film often gives her such overwrought dialogue that she struggles not to feel like a caricature early on. The same trouble befalls Kat Graham, who plays lifelong friend and actress Jada Pinkett. She really seems to gel with her co-star, but their dialogue gets to be pretty overheated and detracts from the film.
The first 45 minutes of the film are problematic because of the simplistic characterizations and the ham-fisted nature of the documentary interview in the prison. They’re really poorly done. The interviewer feeds Tupac a leading question that might as well be a scene cue-card, and then we get a short reenactment that sometimes lasts only two lines of dialogue. It feels forced and rushed, and it has the worst dialogue of the film. It is desperate to establish a narrative of prophetic importance about Tupac’s life, instead of letting it emerge organically from the story of his words and actions.
“Comin’ Real Again”
Whether this sermonizing arose from early scripts and was later paired down or came from other sources, thankfully it recedes and we get a strong movie for the remaining run-time. The story evens out and we get some really great character interactions between Tupac and his family, his friends and rivals in the rap business, and representatives of the power structure that tries to break him.
“Heartz of Men”
The narrative arc between Tupac and his mother becomes essential and moving. Likewise his relationship with Jada Pinkett, his fiance Kidada Jones, and even between him and megalomaniac music mogul Suge Knight. We get a real sense of the players surrounding his drama, and we crucially get his own internal struggles. His desire to transcend entertainment while being drawn to the excess it affords powers much of the final tragic arc. It’s fitting that he often glosses Shakespeare to make his points; the Tupac of the second half of the film is a proper tragic hero filled with ambitions and flaws worthy of Hamlet or Macbeth.
“Holler if Ya Hear Me”
For a biopic about a musician, All Eyez on Me delivers the goods in the sounds and visuals department. The cinematography is tight, and the excellent shot composition in the first act made it appealing for me even though the movie was bogged down. The sound work is excellent, though it can overstay it’s welcome. Each song is well chosen and well integrated, but tends to play a touch too long. Several performance sequences seemed gratuitous; simply fan service for those looking to experience Shakur on-stage again. I love Digital Underground’s Humpty Dance more than most, but I don’t want to hear every single stanza in a movie about somebody who doesn’t even get to sing on that track.
All Eyez on Me is an ultimately rewarding experience that tests your patience early. If you’re having trouble getting into this movie in the first twenty minutes, just hold on. You shouldn’t have to suffer through bad dialogue and sloppy pacing in a movie, but this film does manage to pay off in terms of a gripping and engaging narrative once the early groundwork has been laid. I can’t say that it is as vibrant as last year’s rap biopic, Straight Outta Compton, but it does go deeper into its subject than that film. Once it has its feet under it, All Eyez on Me is a solid biography that should please fans of the genre or of mercurial rapper/poet Tupac Shakur.