An abundance of dramatic biographies, such as Jimi: All Is by My Side and Get Rich or Die Trying, tell the ever-enticing narrative of how an icon, despite all odds, rose to stardom changing their lives’ and the lives of those around them. No biographical film could truly capture the enigma that was Tupac Amaru Shakur, nor has it been attempted. We know the story of how Tupac died, yet we are still eager to learn how the actor, rapper, poet and activist lived. Finally, 20 years after his death, director, Benny Boom, and Morgan Creek Productions undertook this challenge of creating All Eyez On Me.
All Eyez on Me follows Tupac’s journey from living in the ghettos of East Harlem to his success at Death Row Records. First-time leading actor, Demetrius Shipp Jr, remarkably uncanny to Tupac, embodied his charisma and passion creating an overwhelming connection between the viewer and this character. It was imperative for the success of the film that the audience be in the presence of this, almost hieroglyphic, person in order to experience the apparent larger-than-life icon and understand the paradox. Shipp’s performance was phenomenal, so genuinely and accurately personifying the confidence, intellect, and brilliance that was Tupac. Starring alongside Jamal Woolard (who played Biggie Smalls in Notorious), the pair led a strong supporting cast who effortlessly brought out the essence of their characters into the film.
Viewers will be captivated by the film’s exploration of certain controversial scandals so famously documented throughout the early 90s from Tupac’s perspective. Numerous references to the 2009 film Notorious, provides greater insight on events that took place. This juxtaposition gives rise to many viewpoints of key happenings leading to the feud between Biggie Smalls and Tupac, East and West Coast gangs and rivalries within the hip-hop industry, and ultimately Tupac’s untimely death.
What further intrigues the audience is not merely the typical emotion-evoking storyline from “rags to riches”. Throughout the film, a constant dichotomy shines through between being a young man living his childhood dream, and the social duty incurred as an influential, educated black man in the hip-hop industry. Boom’s depiction of how Tupac manoeuvred between the role of observer and activist, through his lyrics and music, is captivating. The audience alternates between a fan or foe of the artist, an onlooker and as Tupac himself, at particular moments thus providing a fragmented yet rounded view of the narrative. Such shifts enable viewers to witness how his decisions (good or bad), mistakes, coincidences and life inspired the messages Tupac wanted to share. Furthermore, people are afforded the opportunity to hear important songs from through the ears of a member of the struggling community, a fan or foe of Tupac, a person in his life, or even a third party who just likes the music. This again creates a connection between the audience and Shipp’s character.
“You paint a picture for the listener that ain’t always pretty, but it’s real”.
The film does not necessarily idolise Tupac, however it is appealing to those who are at least interested to hear his story. Because he was a multifaceted being, there are aspects that seem incomplete such as glimpses of political outcry, institutional racism, misogyny in the hip-hop industry and unrest in the ‘ghetto’ community. Perhaps, that was the aim. The film encapsulates a sense of abruptness, given Tupac’s potential for revolutionary change and sudden death.
All Eyez On Me is increasingly entertaining, following the fast life of Tupac Amaru Shakur. With comedic undertones and a dramatic plot, the audience is constantly captivated as facts are separated from fiction, and possibly the real story of Tupac has been touched upon. I cannot end this review without mentioning the atmosphere that the soundtrack fosters, transporting the audience through every scene, featuring several songs from his albums, Tupac’s raw talent is the centrepiece of what fascinates the viewer. Accompanied with a powerful and moving collection from other artists, you will be rapping, crying, singing and rendered speechless.