Taken from the title of Tupac Shakur’s fourth studio album, All Eyez On Me is a missed opportunity to get under the skin of one of the world’s more complex cult figures. 20 years on from his untimely death, it’s hard to see what is being attempted here.
Shakur did a number of interviews while he spent time in prison on an assault charge. The foreground of this biopic is framed through the lens of a series of these interviews where the filmmakers can neatly whisk through the rapper’s formative years with questions based on the flashpoints of his life up until his prison term. It would be a clever device if the speed of this round-up creates more time to explore his accelerated transition into adulthood. This fact is the most intriguing part of a man who went “from livin’ in hell to livin’ well” as he raps on “Skandalouz” which features on the eponymous album. Instead it’s all a bit superficial and the extra time gained – inside a film well in excess of two hours – is wasted with endless clubbing, discussions of money and the gratuitous draping of women. Often all three at once. All of which fails to develop an understanding of his mindset at all. They were a part of his life and are no doubt necessary but make it feel more like an early 2000’s music video than a bio-drama.
Tupac’s parents (Danai Gurira is a beacon of truthfulness and sincerity as his mother in an otherwise passionless series of performances) were Black Panthers and supposedly he said at the age of ten that he also wanted to be a revolutionary. Indeed, the line is dropped into the dialogue early, however the promise is never carried out on screen. Neither is this an untold story as the short summary of the film asserts nor does it show much of the poet in him – aside from his hip hop lyrics. The writers decide only to pay lip-service to any serious discussion of his poetic disposition or civil rights activism. Dropping in Shakespeare quotations doesn’t count. This is especially painful when Shakur’s days as a fifteen year-old at The Baltimore School of Arts are supposed to have formed so much of his creative character. All of the forceful activism speeches come from those around him – an oddity from a man who was so full of wisdom at such a young age. The trailer makes it all look so ‘worthy’ but broken down it’s just hollow.
The conflict between his experiences within downtrodden black areas in America and his rise above it to great riches and glamour are only vaguely discussed through his music. A memorable scene with the label Interscope sees Tupac explain his insistence on publicising that tough life (with emphasis on “Brenda’s Got A Baby”).
Unfortunately, a superfluity of black rappers greeting each other with stereotypical patter, jiggling female buttocks, guns and money just gets boring. These things were part of his scene but there is nowhere near enough attmpt to use them to probe Tupac’s interior neuroses. Whenever he gets in trouble he is painted as a white knight, something that feels unnecessary as history doesn’t recognise him as a clean-cut hero so why does the film? It’s not much more than a series of easily accessible events. It has its moments but essentially there’s nothing new here. Listen to the album instead.