Film review: All Eyez on Me fails to bring out the real story of Tupac Shakur

The weakest link here is undoubtedly the script, which is strange, because this is a movie that should really write itself.

Demetrius Shipp Jr in All Eyez on Me. Photo by Quantrell Colbert
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All Eyez on Me

Director: Benny Boom

Stars: Demetrius Shipp Jr, Danai Gurira, Kat Graham

Two stars

It has been a long and winding road to the big screen for the Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez on Me, with a revolving door in the production office through which directors and writers having passed since the film was announced in 2011.

Director Benny Boom came on board in 2015, and one suspects the movie’s fractured production process might have contributed to his disjointed offering.

The weakest link here is undoubtedly the script, which is strange, because this is a movie that should really write itself.

Born in 1971 to Black Panther Party-member parents, Shakur spent his childhood being shunted around the United States, while his mother evaded the authorities, eventually settling in Los Angeles, where he befriended some of the hip-hop’s biggest players.

He became the first artist to achieve a platinum-selling album while in prison, for sexual assault, and achieved legendary status in the gangsta rap scene. He became involved in gang violence and the East Coast-West Coast hip-hop war, and was eventually murdered in a drive-by shooting while travelling in Death Row Records boss Suge Knight’s car. The case is still unsolved.

All the ingredients are there, then, but the movie comes across like a fan film – there is an assumption that the audience is already familiar with the source material, so key characters in the hip-hop scene and the story drift in and out without so much as an introduction, never mind fully rounded characterisation.

If you have a working knowledge of the back story, you should just about be able to piece together who is who and what is happening – but if you’re not familiar with Tupac’s story, you are likely to be left somewhat bemused.

Boom has chosen to shoot the movie in a highly literal, biographical style – “Tupac did this, then this happened, and then he did this”. This means we learn plenty about what he did, but nothing about who he was.

The film is more like a dramatisation of a biography than a serious character study of a legendary, conflicted, flawed, fascinating character.

The dialogue, too, is often clumsy – which is ironic since Tupac’s words were inspirational to many.

The film does improve as it goes on, and by the final third, it begins to look like the accomplished work it set out to be. By then, though, the damage has already been done.

It is almost as if a student in a beginners’ film class was given a camera and told to make a movie of someone’s life story, in chronological order – after an hour or so they have learnt the ropes, and are beginning to get the hang of it – just in time for the closing credits to roll. But for parts of the movie’s early section, I was not sure if I would make it that far.

All Eyez on Me is in cinemas now