All Eyez on Me fails to bring out the real story

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All Eyez on Me

Direc­tor: Benny Boom Stars: Demetrius Shipp Jr, Danai Gurira, Kat Gra­ham

It has been a long and wind­ing road to the big screen for the Tu­pac Shakur biopic All Eyez on Me, with a re­volv­ing door in the pro­duc­tion of­fice through which direc­tors and writ­ers hav­ing passed since the film was an­nounced in 2011.

Direc­tor Benny Boom came on board in 2015, and one sus­pects the movie’s frac­tured pro­duc­tion process might have con­trib­uted to his dis­jointed of­fer­ing.

The weak­est link here is un­doubt­edly the script, which is strange, be­cause this is a movie that should re­ally write it­self. Born in 1971 to Black Pan­ther Party- mem­ber par­ents, Shakur spent his child­hood be­ing shunted around the United States, while his mother evaded the au­thor­i­ties, even­tu­ally set­tling in Los An­ge­les, where he be­friended some of the hip-hop’s big­gest play­ers.

He be­came the first artist to achieve a plat­inum- sell­ing al­bum while in prison, for sex­ual as­sault, and achieved le­gendary sta­tus in the gangsta rap scene. He be­came in­volved in gang vi- olence and the East Coast-West Coast hip- hop war, and was even­tu­ally mur­dered in a driveby shoot­ing while trav­el­ling in Death Row Records boss Suge Knight’s car. The case is still un­solved.

All the in­gre­di­ents are there, then, but the movie comes across like a fan film – there is an as­sump­tion that the au­di­ence is al­ready fa­mil­iar with the source ma­te­rial, so key char­ac­ters in the hip-hop scene and the story drift in and out with­out so much as an in­tro­duc­tion, never mind fully rounded char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion.

If you have a work­ing knowl­edge of the back story, you should just about be able to piece to­gether who is who and what is hap­pen­ing – but if you’re not fa­mil­iar with Tu­pac’s story, you are likely to be left some­what be­mused.

Boom has cho­sen to shoot the movie in a highly lit­eral, bi­o­graph­i­cal style – “Tu­pac did this, then this hap­pened, and then he did this”. This means we learn plenty about what he did, but noth­ing about who he was.

The film is more like a drama­ti­sa­tion of a bi­og­ra­phy than a se­ri­ous char­ac­ter study of a le­gendary, con­flicted, flawed, fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ter.

The di­a­logue, too, is of­ten clumsy – which is ironic since Tu­pac’s words were in­spi­ra­tional to many.

The film does im­prove as it goes on, and by the fi­nal third, it be­gins to look like the ac­com­plished work it set out to be. By then, though, the dam­age has al­ready been done.

It is al­most as if a stu­dent in a be­gin­ners’ film class was given a cam­era and told to make a movie of some­one’s life story, in chrono­log­i­cal or­der – af­ter an hour or so they have learnt the ropes, and are be­gin­ning to get the hang of it – just in time for the clos­ing cred­its to roll. But for parts of the movie’s early sec­tion, I was not sure if I would make it that far.

All Eyez on Me is in cin­e­mas now

Photo by Quantrell Colbert

Demetrius Shipp Jr in All Eyez on Me.

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