June 16, 2017
There are historical tragedies that are so devastating, anyone who was alive when they occurred can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when they found out; the assassination of JFK, the Challenger explosion, 9/11. Other cultural moments may not have that worldwide effect, but on a personal level they too can be extremely impactful.
On a brisk Friday night in the Fall of 1996, I was riding home after a high school football game when I heard Tupac was dead.
Twenty-one years later, after a prolonged legal struggle between Alfeni Shakur, Tupac’s mother, and Morgan Creek, the studio behind the film, Pac’s story is finally here. Directed by Benny Boom, known mostly as a TV and music video director, there is not much spectacular cinematography or visual flair and All Eyez on Me does feel at times like a well-done TV movie. What it lacks in cinematic scope, it more than makes up for with fiery performances, steady pacing, and so much great music.
Unlike most music biopics, All Eyez is not a supremely deep dive into Pac’s tortured soul and it’s not a cautionary tale of fame and misfortune. Tupac didn’t go off the rails with drug or alcohol abuse, and he embraced every aspect of the limelight and the power that he had to reach people. If he did succumb to the pressures of his meteoric rise to superstardom, it was a result of ego (maintaining the “thug life” persona projected onto him following his breakout role in Juice) and paranoia (after being shot in a hotel lobby from which Biggie just happened to be upstairs).
All Eyez doesn’t zero in on any one element of Pac’s life and that lack of depth is both a detriment and a benefit to the film, as it allows the filmmakers to cover tons of ground in an all-encompassing saga, from his early relationship with Jada Pinkett to his breakthrough with Digital Underground to his prison stint to his partnership with Death Row Records and the infamous East Coast/West Coast feud. Most of all, it is a celebration of his music, and for Tupac fans, it’s electrifying. Delivered in many different environments from the booth to the stage to music video reenactments, these scenes are altogether nostalgic, compelling, and triumphant.
Demetrius Shipp, Jr. was obviously born to portray Tupac, not only with his eerily similar appearance, but with his mannerisms, his swagger, and his ability to exude a fierce exterior blended with a soul of profound sensitivity. The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira is equally up to the challenge as Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, and Dominic L. Santana is terrifying as record exec bully Suge Knight, including a dinner table scene reminiscent of Robert DeNiro’s Al Capone in The Untouchables.
Looking back, Tupac Shakur’s tragically early death seems inevitable. The son of an activist, he grew up amongst fighters against the status quo, people who refused to accept this messed up world the way it is. With his overwhelming charisma and way of articulating precisely what he needed to say and what his audience wanted to hear, he was destined to spark controversy, enlightening some, infuriating others. Place a personality that polarizing in the peak of the golden age of hip-hop, and the fireworks are bound to fly. There are times when society seems to deem a public figure “too influential” and the result is often fatal (see: JFK, Malcolm X, John Lennon, Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Lee). Okay, I’ll take off my tin foil hat now.
There was one moment in the screening, when Tupac was debating whether or not to take that fateful car ride with Suge in Vegas, and the theater audience uttered a collectively audible “Stay, Pac!” as if they could turn back the clock and will the tragedy not to happen.
I don’t remember where I was when I heard Tupac was shot in that car, because he had been shot plenty before. He was immortal. There was no way he was going to die. As he confidently intoned on the brash beef track “Hit ‘Em Up”:
Who shot me but you punks didn’t finish
Now you bout to feel the wrath of a menace
A few days later he was gone.
Tupac Shakur was the bridge of musical genius between Michael Jackson and Kanye West. He was complicated. He was misunderstood. He was unbelievably talented. But he is immortal. And after seeing this movie, he is missed more than ever.
Star rating: 4 out of 5 stars