Anthony's Film Review
All Eyez On Me (2017)
This biopic of the late Tupac Shakur is a tribute that comes alive...
As of mid-2017, there has been a recent surge of biographical films depicting major African-American figures, even the most notable ones. There are movies portraying Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Selma), Jackie Robinson (42), and James Brown (Get On Up). There is even an upcoming film about Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (Marshall). Perhaps due to growing interest and curiosity about the black community (and possibly due to a growing number of news reports suggesting racism towards African-Americans), you can expect at least one cinematic biography about African-Americans to hit theaters each year. Even biographies about black hip-hop artists are experiencing this trend, as illustrated by the 2015 movie Straight Outta Compton about the rap group NWA.
So it's not really surprising to have another movie portraying a prominent rapper: All Eyez On Me, about the late Tupac Shakur. Like Straight Outta Compton, the title of the movie is the same as the title of a major album produced by the artist. Naturally, this begs comparison of this movie about Tupac and the other movie about NWA. I can tell you that both films are great, though All Eyez On Me is kind of one step down below Straight Outta Compton. I may not be a hip-hop fan, but I can imagine that fans of those artists would say that, for the most part, the cinematic versions of their life stories do justice.
It's worth pointing out the star of this movie, first and foremost. Demetrius Shipp Jr. not only looks like Tupac Shakur, but also he captures the persona, that of a young man who is driven by a need for expression but always on the defensive. The casting choice here is definitely a good one. The other star I like here is Danai Gurira as Afeni, Tupac's mother. The actress portrays a character who shows a mix of fiery anger, powerful despair, and endless motherly love. While I'm at it, I would like to give credit to Kat Graham as Jada Pinkett (who in real life would become Will Smith's wife), plus Dominic L. Santana as record producer Suge Knight and other actors in this great cast.
The story is divided into two parts. Roughly the first third of the movie is about Tupac's pre-rap background, from his childhood in New York and Baltimore to his arrival in Oakland. The remaining two-thirds of the movie centers on Tupac's career, all the way to his tragic death in 1996. I probably would like the movie a bit more if the two parts were more equal, because the first part seems to move more quickly than the second part. Still, if there is more to tell about his career than his background, so be it. It is interesting to note that the two parts seem to illustrate the pattern of many hip-hop artists in general. At first, the intention of the music is to show how horrible life is in black ghettos, but as the music generates massive revenue, the focus shifts to maintaining that wealth and status, even if the artistic material doesn't really change. This is best summed up with one line in the movie saying that there is a gap between the civil rights generation and the hip-hop generation.
You can see this generational gap from scenes featuring Tupac and his mother. In the beginning, Afeni was a member of the Black Panthers, and Tupac's stepfather was also a black revolutionary. You'd think Tupac's music early on would be akin to the efforts of his Black Panther mother towards social justice. But once U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle criticizes Tupac's music for inciting murder, Afeni becomes scared, worrying that her son has forgotten about the path of garnering support for civil rights. Another notable scene depicts Tupac in a New York prison where he is given harsh advice from an older black inmate who, unlike Tupac, is in prison for life and will never see the light of day. You can't help but wonder what Tupac will ultimately decide to do next.
And once it's clear that he's deep in the hip-hop lifestyle, there's no hope for return. Only a sense of curiosity about how things will play out. When you watch what goes on at Death Row Records, the hip-hop record label that Suge Knight runs, you cannot help but look at this business as anything but an ordinary business. As Knight says at one point, "Death Row is more than just a label. It's a way of life." Based on how commanding or physically abusive Knight can be to disloyal business partners, Death Row Records appears to have a really blurry line between a music business and a street gang or wealthy criminal organization, if there is such a line. You'd think Tupac would try to find a way out, but because he feels he has strong ties to the label, he pretty much stays put. As time goes on, there is much less of a chance for things to change.
So what we have here is a biopic that features solid performances and a compelling story, plus plenty of raw emotion. I definitely enjoyed following the life and career of Tupac Shakur and having a better understanding of who he was, even if I'm not a Tupac fan. It's great that the film presents both his strengths and his flaws, so it doesn't feel biased in either direction. I'll let the die-hard Tupac fans decide whether this biopic is truly the best cinematic representation of the artist. But for now, I'll just make an educated guess that many fans will love it.
For more information about All Eyez On Me, visit the Internet Movie Database.