The tragedy of All Eyez on Me is that it’s getting a wide enough release that a better movie probably won’t be made on this subject any time soon. For a man as mythic and as closely held to the hearts of his fans, Tupac Shakur deserves better.
What we get is a by-the-numbers biopic, most closely resembling Man on the Moon, wherein this happened, then that happened, then this other thing happened, then he died. It resembles that film, too, in the way it’s clear that the filmmakers hold their central character up more as a hero to be worshipped than as a human being whose life might be examined a little more closely. The film makes an attempt at acknowledging this shortcoming, framing the larger narrative within a prison interview with the incarcerated rapper, but it feels more like a screenwriting cop-out than an actual method of storytelling. “Tell me about your mother” is followed by scenes of Afeni Shakur’s Black Panther days. “Then you moved to California?” And we see a teenage Tupac in Oakland. And on and on like this. But even this narrative conceit might’ve brought more to bear if the script and cast had more on their minds than simply checking off boxes. Tupac was a complicated man, a superstar among superstars during his run of successes with Death Row Records, but this movie tells us almost nothing about what might’ve gone on in his head and his heart. We learn only that he lived, was famous, and was murdered at the age of 25. But we knew that going in.
After a brief introductory sequence setting up Shakur’s youth spent with his young sister and their ex-Panther mother and stepfather, we meet teenage Tupac (Demetrius Shipp Jr., who plays the rapper into adulthood) as he meets Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham) in a high school drama class. They form an immediate bond and become lifelong best friends, but the only evidence we’re shown is a poem and a voice-over and tells us, “She was my best friend.” Without verging too far into this-is-how-the-movie-should’ve-been territory, the fact is that this is a perfect example of the cinematic CliffsNotes we are presented with. Never do we get the sense that these two are that close, which pays off later (or doesn’t, really) when Pinkett shows up again years later and we are barely aware of who this character is supposed to be. A lot more could’ve been done with this relationship to give a clearer sense of the “real” Tupac behind the man on stage, but the movie simply isn’t interested.
Shock G, Biggie, Suge, Dre and Snoop are paraded out like Gangsta Rap Theme Park characters. They all get a chance to do almost-there impressions before the film moves on. For the scope of the story (and runtime), it’s a film that always feels rushed. And for all its lip service to “the power of words,” it’s a film with remarkably little to say.