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Suge I Stay Or Suge I Go? Tupac All Eyez On Me Reviewed
Tara Joshi , June 30th, 2017 08:45

The Quietus Hip-Hop columnist Tara Joshi reviews the long awaited biopic of rap legend Tupac Shakur

Show, don’t tell. That’s a rule that most writers are told at least once in their life – give your audience proof, let them experience something through feeling rather than spelling it out for them. But, unfortunately, it seems that the team behind Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez On Me didn’t get the memo. Instead, veteran hip hop and R&B music video director Benny Boom (who has worked with the likes of Ciara, Lil Wayne, and Nelly), along with writing team Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez and Steven Bagatourian, have created “the untold story” that takes two hours and twenty minutes.

They attempt to spell out every step of the legendary artist’s life journey - “and then this happened, and then this happened”, ad infinitum – albeit with the first half of the film told retrospectively by ‘Pac (played by adept newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr.), as he gives interviews looking back on his life so far from prison. Even this feels clumsy though - half the film as personal reflection and retrospect then the other half as pure narrative sans narrator feels jarring.

Admittedly, with an artist as revered as Tupac, fans were always going to have qualms with his representation on screen regardless, and perhaps it seemed respectful to try and cover it all. Representing Tupac’s life from when he’s still in the womb of activist mother Afeni (played searingly by Danai Gurira) right up until his infamous death in Las Vegas is deeply ambitious. In trying to tell the whole story, inevitably the film has ended up spreading itself far too thin. This is a glossy, but largely quite a shallow representation of his life that too often feels quite “made for TV”, with hammy slow-motion and clunky dialogue.

Shipp Jr.’s Tupac talks about life in the ‘hood, alludes to the grim reality of tracks like ‘Brenda’s Got A Baby’, but what we actually see on-screen rarely feels as gritty as we’re being told it is. It’s possibly an arbitrary, unrelated comparison, but a recent film that springs to mind is Moonlight: the rawness in the depiction of a mother being addicted to crack stands in stark contrast to how a similar storyline is rendered in All Eyez, and how drugs and violence in general are treated in this biopic. Vince Staples recently reviewed the film on Twitter, and commented on the choreography of some of the shoot-out scenes - “THEY GOT TUPAC SHOOTING ON ONE KNEE HE ON SOME CALL OF DUTY SHIT!!”. None of this is to say the acting is bad - they do what they can - but the direction and script lack the emotional resonance that these kinds of harrowing stories deserve, instead serving up unrealistic, too-polished conceptions.

Again, fans have bought into the cult-like status of Tupac, meaning that any depiction probably wasn’t going to live up to people’s hopes: but regardless of desiring perfectionism for one of hip hop’s most prolific artists, the immense number of chapters in Shakur’s life - New York, Baltimore, California, prison, signing to Death Row, East Coast v. West Coast - are all interesting enough that they merit further inspection. Focussing on just one of these things might have been a more fruitful insight into the rapper and actor’s life and personality – instead we are rushed through things like what was surely a profoundly important relationship with his poetry teacher, Leila Steinberg (played by Lauren Cohan), or indeed his friendship with Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham) – who we know is his closest friend, essentially because he keeps telling us.

When they do try to “show” rather than tell us about his friendship with Jada, it turns out to have been a misstep: Pinkett called out the film for hurtfully misrepresenting their friendship, showing Tupac reading a poem to her that, in reality, Pinkett only read after his death. You can see why they did it, but also when most of the people you’re depicting are still alive, it feels a lazy oversight not to have checked in with Pinkett.

Indeed, the approach leaves you curious as to the moments they adapted, and those they left out. Surely some representation of his interactions with Janet Jackson and Maya Angelou on the set of Poetic Justice would have been worth including, or even his marriage to Keisha Morris. The beef between East and West Coast doesn’t feel properly explored either - the origins of Tupac’s beef with Biggie (played by Jamal Woolard, reprising his role from Notorious) feel unclear, and - again - it’s a relationship that could have been examined.

This isn’t to say the film doesn’t have it’s moments: the mafia-style of Death Row Records’ dinner party with a terrifying Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana) and laidback Snoop (Jarrett Ellis, who merits a nod for his dead-on take on that iconic drawl) is pretty glorious. Tupac’s first meeting with Interscope is a little schmaltzy, but it’s a nice reminder of him standing up for what he thought was worth representing; how strongly he felt about conveying his message to the world.

Tupac Shakur was undoubtedly fascinatingly complex: trying to get across the intricacies of the FBI hunt, his upbringing, his politics, his love of Shakespeare, “thug life”, the rape allegation, his diligent dedication to his careers in acting and music, as well as his relationships, and his embroilment in a deadly rivalry, is a lot for one film to take on. But it does him a disservice to not just pick one moment - one snapshot from his life - and explore that in-depth.

Instead, what we’re left with is a lot of telling, but no truly inspiring show. When Kidada Jones (Annie Ilonzeh), says, towards the end of the film, something vague and contrived along the lines of, “you’re always doing things for everyone else,” you have to frown and think back over the film. His impact and importance are alluded to, sure, but Tupac’s work for the community and the culture aren’t nearly explored enough for Jones’ words to seem sincere.

For “the most copied MC of all time”, the man whose name still sparks controversy, who remains deeply influential - All Eyez On Me doesn’t make it nearly clear enough just why everyone was, and everyone still is, looking at Tupac Shakur.

All Eyez On Me is in cinemas today

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