Film Review: ‘All Eyez on Me’

All Eyez on Me Trailer
Courtesy of Lionsgate

A drama about the life of Tupac Shakur is sprawling but sketchy in a standard biopic way, yet Demetrius Shipp Jr.'s performance nails the hip-hop superstar as the ferocious role-player he was.

Sleekly shaven-headed, with a pirate bandana, a gangsta’s dripped-in-death tattoos, and the liquid stare of an Arabian prince, Tupac Shakur was the matinee idol of hip-hop superstars: not the fiercest rapper, not the most virtuosic or visionary, but a figure of “hard” ferocity who elevated street nihilism by fusing it with a certain lovesexy bravura. For a while, he was as much a movie star as he was a rap star (and he would have been a bigger one had his legal troubles not scared off the Hollywood establishment). On some level, Tupac’s life always seemed like a movie playing out in front of you — not just the hair triggers of bloodshed, but his whole contradictory dance of activism and thuggery, commitment and celebrity.

All Eyez on Me,” the messy, hugely flawed, but fascinating biographical drama that has now been made about him, channels those contradictions, even if it doesn’t always know what to do with them. Comprehensive but sketchy, richly atmospheric but often under-dramatized, it is not, in the end, a very good movie (there are a few scenes, like Tupac’s initial meeting with Ted Field of Interscope Records, that are embarrassingly bad). Yet it’s highly worth seeing, because in its volatility and hunger, and the hidden desperation of its violence, it captures something about the space in which Tupac Shakur lived: a place that wanted to be all about pride and power, but was really about flying over the abyss.

The film is 2 hours and 20 minutes long, and considering that Tupac was only 25 years old when he was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas on Sept. 7, 1996, that should be enough time to tell his story with intimacy and flow. Yet “All Eyez on Me,” directed by the music-video veteran Benny Boom, is an old-school biopic that reminds you why old-school biopics faded: It has that overly sprawling, one-thing-after-another quality that can make you feel like you’re seeing the cinematic version of a Wikipedia entry.

That said, Demetrius Shipp Jr., who plays Tupac, carries you through. He looks astonishingly like the rap star, but Shipp also fills out Tupac emotionally, showing us the smiley high-school student who prided himself on his success in the theater — we see him cast as the lead in “Hamlet” — as well as the surly, neglected adolescent who was raised by his mother, the former Black Panther Afeni Shakur, to take a never-ending stance of defiance. Afeni is played by Danai Gurira (who would have been perfect as Nina Simone), and Gurira makes her a ruthlessly intelligent analyst of the white power structure who is nevertheless consumed by a rage that has no outlet (at one point, she turns to crack).

It’s no wonder that Tupac grows up to be a militant without a cause. He can see the injustice around him, and when he’s arrested in Oakland for jaywalking (when was the last time a white person got arrested for jaywalking? Answer: never), the sadism of the police is like a nightstick to the soul. Yet each new way that he chooses to define his manhood — as a rap star; as a fighter with thug-life cred who will walk, lips snarled, into any confrontation; as a stud; as an activist leader in the new era of rap-as-racial-politics — it becomes, for him, a highly self-conscious performance. He turns into a badass outlaw hip-hop demigod who is playing the role of a badass outlaw hip-hop demigod.

There’s a facile framing device, with Tupac explaining (and defending) his life in a prison interview that takes place during the nine months he spent at the Clinton Correctional Facility in 1995. The movie than flashes back to his New York childhood, his jarring moves to Baltimore and Oakland, the close friendship he formed in his teens with Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham), his shot at stardom when he was asked to join Digital Underground, his 1992 role as a stone-cold sociopath in “Juice” (a role he acted brilliantly, and that was said by some to have had an influence on his off-screen behavior), and his mesmerizing early solo videos for tracks like “Same Song” (his first lead with Digital Underground) and the scabrous social-protest rap “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” But it’s only after he goes to jail that the movie finds its footing.

“All Eyez on Me” presents the incident that resulted in rape charges that were brought against Tupac and members of his entourage (he was convicted of first-degree sexual abuse) in a way that completely exonerates him; the truth may have been murkier. Once he’s in prison, however, his life and career look like they’re in ruins. To save himself, he signs a deal with the devil: Marion “Suge” Knight, the fearsome 350-pound giant-cigar-chomping entrepreneur of Death Row Records, who enjoys a supreme distinction among the rappers and producers he employs and lords it over — he’s the only one among them who isn’t playing at being a gangsta.

Dominic L. Santana, who plays Knight, captures the underworld mogul’s self-righteous menace, and the second half of the movie, in which Shakur finds his greatest success, records his greatest song (the momentous “California Love”), and experiences his greatest existential confusion while at Death Row, is the ominous heart of “All Eyez on Me.” It’s not just that he’s surrounded by back-stabbers and glad-handers, as well as musicians like Dr. Dre (Harold House Moore, in an underwritten role) and Snoop Dogg (Jarrett Ellis, who gets the voice but not the snakish cunning). In essence, Tupac is still in prison, trapped not just in a three-album contract but in a stance of outlaw brutishness that’s become, in his own mind, “political”: the only stance the white man will allow him.

But his mother said it best: This is really the system’s way of handing him the tools to destroy himself. Once his friendship with Biggie Smalls (Jamal Woolard) breaks down, the fabled East Coast–West Coast rap war becomes, in the movie’s view, a violent form of tap-dancing, with Tupac and Biggie deluded into thinking that their taunts and boasts mean something.

Who killed Tupac Shakur? “All Eyez on Me” doesn’t say, but it least it spares us the soul-sapping diversion of conspiracy theory. In all likelihood, Tupac was killed in a tit-for-tat piece of gang violence that had nothing to do with the rap wars. What the movie captures is that Tupac’s absorption — through showbiz, then through the empire of Suge Knight — into the role of gangsta sociopath was the insidious illusion that sealed his fate. It was a role he relished playing, and he did it brilliantly; he convinced the toughest audience there was — himself. But the only thing about the role that was entirely real was his death.

Film Review: 'All Eyez on Me'

Reviewed at Magno, New York, June 14, 2017. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 140 MIN.

Production

A Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate release of a Morgan Creek Productions, Program Pictures, Codeblack Films production. Producers: David T. Robinson, L.T. Hutton, James G. Robinson. Executive producer: Wayne Morris.

Crew

Director: Benny Boom. Screenplay: Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez, Steven Bagatourian. Camera (color, widescreen): Peter Menzies Jr. Editor: Joel Cox.

With

Demetrius Shipp Jr., Danai Gurira, Kat Graham, Dominic L. Santana, Jamal Woolard, Jarrett Ellis, Brandon Suave, Harold House Moore, Lauren Cohan, Hill Harper.

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  1. AFA says:

    Awful, terrible movie about an awful person, Tupac.

  2. Tupac says:

    well you can never capture the true essence of a great man it’s like Willie smith playing Ali and he is a famous actor

  3. Sirius says:

    I liked it, it was best version of Tupac I’ve seen. Without adding another 30 minutes, it was pretty good, just condensed.

  4. SAGA says:

    1sts offs, this movie does not represent how 2pacs image including height and swag was that created the evolution of his own career. It’s another badly flawed representation of puzzles and assumptions we already know.This movie should be BANNED for image re-inventing from girlplan, the new millennium virus dictating-bandits who feel they can throw in their own version of black struggle in modern day society when in reality they are the cause for the chaos in today’s society. I’ll hit em up with a zero for not being true some of these fictional facts

  5. Moe DeNIro says:

    What kind of movie did some of you guys want? It was as truthful a depiction of Tupac’s life one could fit into a movie of it’s length. You can not cover an entire lifespan of a human being in two hours and twenty minutes. He was iconic. He was controversial. He was Tupac. He was a boy who became a man and a legacy to Hip Hop. All the negative reviews for what? I loved the humaness of the film. Tupac’s legacy deserves to have a life attached to it. The film was a great introspective view of who Tupac truly was from the roots up and truly showed he was an intelligent and insightful man who lived his life suffering the consequences of being baited by wolves in sheep’s clothing.

  6. Keifus says:

    Tupac deserved a storyteller as good as himself. It’s a shame he didn’t get one unfortunately.

  7. Jala Minnfee says:

    I went to go see All Eyez On Me and I felt Benny Boom did a great job on telling 2 pacs story. People say 2 pac was a thug no He was our voice throughout the airways. 2 pac gave a message of hope and inspired people through his music. The song he made that got me through alot of tough sitiations was Keep your head Up. When Scarface and 2 Pac made the song Smile you felt 2 pacs voice he gave you that hope that your situation will get better. The songs like Hail Mary that was ayed in the movie help depict a person who wants do the right thing but is caught in between doing good and wanting to protect himself against fake people who were out to get pac.The movie showcased 2 pacs talent as being an activist as far as if he saw something wrong he would try to prevent it lije approaching the d rug dealer who was selling his mom drugs. 2 pac is the best rapper of all time. I lived through that era f t om when 2 pac joined Digital Underground to when he came out with I get around, Brends got a baby, Keep your head up all the way to when he was arrested for the rape charge to when he came out the double albumn all eyez on me. To when 2 pac sugned with deathrow. I followed his career. Tupac was a intelligent powerful political man who the government feared. If look at actual footage of his interviews he was outspoken because he knew what he went through in his life could used to help others. He wasour voice of reason.Justwe had NWA who revealed police brutality and racial profiling the issues that was talked about or brought to life 2 pac warned us and now it is happenening. 2 oac made a song called change and it showed him evolving into a more mature rap artist. He made I Aint Mad at Cha ehich he basically addresses a friend who decides to steer away fr om doing the wrong thing to do good. So dont dis credit Pac or the movie or what he stood for he did alot of good. Pac was chosen to be a leader and destin for greatness. He was reaching his full potential. Yes I am going to say what everone wants to say Fuck Suge Knight. With someone with the name Suge you can tell he was a snake and sneaky croom. That is why he lost death row. R.I.P.

  8. Big Syke says:

    The writer of this review failed to realize that the character that played snoop was lip-syncing for every single line in the film! How does that go unnoticed?? That was actually Snoop talking and it was hilariously bad that the directed even allowed that to happen

  9. Luke says:

    And a movie about this convicted felon is important for what reason?

  10. What exactly did you expect the meeting with the Interscope guy to be like? How was it embarrassingly bad? Explain. Demetrius was amazing and he had big shoes to fill. I disagree with you, Pac WAS a visionary AND a fierce rapper. I’m not sure who you have been listening to and watching but pardon the audacity in me asking you to let me be a better judge on who Tupac was as I was there (in the era) when it happened, listening to it all. Do some research on rap first then speak with your ‘pen’. And to the person commenting below, we’re not gonna put MC Hammer on the same scope as Tupac Shakur. NOTORIOUS was awesome, the man playing Biggie was a great actor. Get real. White guys shouldn’t really be writing about black music (and this is coming from a white female). White men just can’t jump.

  11. Sounds like Afeni was justified in not supporting this project. On the bright side, the Biggie documentary was awful too (minus the actor who played Big). It’s like these biopic makers think having a lead actor who looks like the subject is enough to carry a movie. It’s not. You need a strong script too. But props to them for renewing mainstream interest in Tupac’s legacy I guess.

    I’m low-key annoyed with Hollywood’s obsession with cashing in on ’90s nostalgia via these lame musician biopics. The only one that was watchable was the NWA one, and it omitted a LOT of important details while whitewashing the group’s shady history of violence against women. The TLC one was okay, the Biggie one sucked & the Aaliyah one sucked even harder. Who’s next, MC Hammer? Can’t wait to see which category of suckage this one fits into.

    As far as I’m concerned, the only Tupac movie that counts came out in 2003.

  12. Dee jay says:

    This movie was waste of 2 hours I was furious to know the world has waited this long to watch our memories on screen but to be disappointed. PAC is probably rolling in his grave. this movie didn’t reveal his greatness or how smart he was. What happened to the live interviews he did. His passion a was the truth

  13. Xem VanAdams says:

    Im sorry, but “ALL EYEZ ON ME” was terrible.

    All of the significant details that framed Tupac’s life are so glossed over. The movie delivers in a very, “this happened, then this happened, and oh…lets not forget about this-real-quick” type of fashion. Two and a half hours is PLENTY of time to effectively illustrate the high’s, low’s and in-between’s that made Tupac the lyrical and prophetic force he became. The film never even makes mention of his mainstream role in “Poetic Justice”. Leila Steinberg, the woman who was basically Tupac’s mentor and central introduction to performance art appears for literally ONE scene. Tupac lived with Leila and her husband for YEARS. Her role in his life was pivotal to his segue into being on stage in front of mainstream audiences. How was her presence reduced to a forty-five second appearance? There’s also no mention whatsoever of the woman Keisha who Tupac married while he was in jail.

    The entire production is just so singular. We never get into the mind of Tupac Shakur or delve between the layers of his fears, his internal struggles or the seeds of his unique artistry. “All Eyez On Me” is nothing more than an expensive snapshot of the headlines that most of us 30 and over are already aware of. The ONLY “detail” or tidbit of information that the movie introduced me to is the fact that Tupac was involved in a long term relationship with Quincy Jones’ daughter, Kidada. I had no idea that she was the main woman in his life up until his death.

    The film is just so horribly directed by Benny Boom. It’s very difficult to believe that he graduated from Temple Universities film program. There’s absolutely no visual illustration. The narrative isn’t painted on screen. The entire script and overall production spoon feeds the audience – as if we are pure idiots. We jump back and forth CONSTANTLY between scenes of Hill Harper interviewing Tupac in jail circa 1995 and then the actual events unfolding before us as Hill & Tupac verbally discuss them. It’s juvenile filmmaking and a trite cinematic tactic.
    And the ONLY real standout acting performance stems from Danai Gurira who stars as Afeni Shakur. Her facial and verbal delivery is superb in comparison to the other pedestrian players. I’m not taking anything away from Demetrius Shipp who stars as Tupac, but he seemed to merely be going through the motions during half of his screen time. If it were not for him physically resembling Tupac to the core, I would not have been convinced of the passion, the power and intensity that evoked the spirit of Tupac. “All Eyez On Me” just is not a good film overall and I would much rather see a seasoned director take on such masterful work in another box office or 6-8 part, television series release.

    People are jumping on John Singleton for wanting to include a jail rape scene in his version of the Tupac story, as well as Tupac talking to a severed head, but the common, everyday individual has no idea what real life information Singleton was privy to. Tupac may have really been raped in jail, but of course, his image and hyper masculine presence forced him and the public alike to deny such claims. John Singleton’s inclusion of the severed head and having Tupac talking to this image of himself illustrated Tupac’s love of Shakespeare and the battle of man vs. himself. I would have preferred that type of visual storytelling, as opposed to this pitiful L.T. Hutton/Benny Boom version that has Tupac randomly quoting bits and pieces of ‘Hamlet’ throughout the film. UGH!
    and lets not even talk about the monstrosity that is the ending. Would it have killed the creative team to show Afeni battling with the heavy decision to pull the plug on Tupac’s life support?…or even to show Tupac laying on his death bed and shaking the mattresses with both hands clamped down at his sides because he had something he wanted to GET OUT, but could not speak? THESE are the stories that have been told by close friends who visited him between September 6, 1996 and September 13, 1996. The film should NOT have ended with Tupac’s body laid out on the Vegas strip and a slew of title cards plastered across the screen highlighting his “Hollywood” achievements. The gospel music that played beneath the ending scene was very misplaced and drowned out the heavy emotion.

    I don’t care what the millennials are saying about “All Eyez On Me”. It was terribly spliced together, and in such a way that reflected a very amateur team behind-the-scenes. I saw the film yesterday afternoon at the Columbia AMC here in Maryland and I left the theater feeling extremely disappointed. “All Eyez On Me” pales in comparison to every black film released between last summer 2016 and present day.

    DO NOT WASTE YOUR COINS! Wait for this pedestrian mess to be released ON DEMAND and in DVD/Blu-Ray format.

  14. margo fitzsimmons says:

    A terrible job on the screen play, and many lies, a great way to express subtle racism. Only see the movie if you’re a Ttupac hater. As i now find disgust in the total production!!!!!

  15. Clarence Houston says:

    Next essential confusion – I agree. Insidious illusion that sealed his fate – I do not agree. I think that Tupac had to deal with a much more politically charged background and subsequent paranoia than any other rap artist in American history. In that sense, he’s like a Paul Robeson of the 40s who enjoyed the luxury of being a huge black icon around the world, but was under an extraordinary amount of pressure by the American political machine.

    Both men would bear witness to the experience of black life that would subsequently lead to enormous scrutiny and opposition in their professional and personal lives. I, then, dare think that both men had to make some tough decisions about “how to move” and “who to move with”; unfortunately, with a lack of options to emancipate himself from prison, Pac got caught up with some guys who demanded that Pac portray the thug more than Interscope . If Pac had really made a plan to get out of Death Row records – which I believe he did – it then shows that the thug persona was exactly that – a persona that would take some real ‘getting into character’, but nevertheless a persona – not an insidious self-decree of thug. Finally, it can then be inferred that Pac would have eventually found a new voice and lifestyle more aligned with his original of using his voice to tell his people’s stories and educate. However, you are right about Tupac embracing something that coincides with him dying.
    I simply want to add to this discourse that while it is likely the young 25 year old may have been a bit misguided and confused, it is important to remember Tupac’s upbringing, body of work, and existential dilemma that then makes his embracing of the post-prison environment and lifestyle a bit maniacally tactical.

  16. PacFan says:

    I disagree with the reviewer’s comments of “not the most virtuosic or visionary” rapper. Rappers who have worked with Pac have lauded him for being able to lay down his vocals for a song impromptu and his great ear for music in the recording studio. And he definitely was a “visionary”. Have you listened to his music?

  17. Lexdiamonds says:

    Growing up with Tu-Pac this movie (to me) made a major impact on the way I felt about his and Biggie’s assassination. Very well done and the actors were spot on! Great movie!

  18. Incredibly insensitive and uninformed to suggest his death was caused by some ‘tit for tat bit of gang violence’. He was executed by the CIA/FBI who over the years had a 4000 page file open on this young revolutionary. COINTEL Programme. But this reviewer already knows that as he’s part of a mainstream media with a vested interest in sensoring the truth around such issues. Suppose I’m a conspiracy theorist though, right?

  19. Bill B. says:

    I could care less about this guy, his music or this 140 minute movie, but the lead has an uncanny resemblance. They were lucky to find him.

  20. shots fired says:

    This is a bullshit article..first your description of Tupac…his music and his character is completely rediculous…did you even do research on who he was?? Better yet, did you even listen to his music? This article was clearly written by someone whos views are closed minded and probably not even a hip hop fan…so your opinion of the movie is irrelevant like this article.

    • David says:

      You sound like an idiot. It’s not an article, it’s a review. He’s reviewing the movie. It really doesn’t matter if he listened to Tupac’s music or if he’s a hip hop fan.

      • Rebecca Harrup says:

        He reviewed the movie by watching it… he writes about his review and it’s published for people to read. …. it’s an article. .. and i don’t care about other people’s reviews personally… I review a movie for my own self. .. it’s how opinion but I think his opinion don’t mean squat… only a true fan will be able to give a good review worth reading … this dude lost me at ” not the fiercest rapper”… I then came to comments here…. to get a review of this guys article he wrote about his review. .and say huh? It doesn’t matter if he had not heard Tupacs music? Not a fan? Hmmm… well what the hell he watch the movie for?? That’s crazy talk sir!! You can’t watch a 2 hr movie and get what Tupacs life was like..not enough to understand any part of it. . can’t cheat and watch the movie but not read (hear) the book! ..

  21. Steve says:

    Last hope for black race
    http://www.whiteprideday.com
    Its not what it appears to be

  22. Mj Hong says:

    He got shot on September 13th 1996 not September 7th.

    • James Smith says:

      He got shot Sept 7th. Died Sept 13th. If you’re gonna comment, and correct someone, at least know what you are talking about

  23. DeShun M Levingston says:

    Let us first thank God for such an individual to describe the true meaning of free will. After watching this film I was move intrigued, if not interested to see more of what 2Pac’s stood for. More action, then what his life bio can explain. When telling this man’s story can you really minimize it into a movie time frame. Hell this was able to erase countless seasons of what’s known today as “Love and Hip hop” (except when Remy Ma & Papoose arrived) Benny Boom, L.T. Hutton and company did a amazing job as having such an raw bio towards an “immortal icon”, the only thirst more of 2Pac; the improvisor, the adapter, and the overcomer.

  24. Parker says:

    Are dwarf from we’re disappointed because the script was very choppy some of the actors were too old to play the role that they were in urine. In my opinion you can wait for this film on demand or dvd.

    • Parker says:

      Audio speaking will really misspell words. As I continue, some of the parts were humorous such as the actors who played the role of Snoop Dogg and his uncle Junebug. But this movie was not intended to be humorous it should have shown the strength of Tupac and his political perspective logic and Leadership instead it showed everything negative about him

  25. Lucy mize says:

    Glad I saw the the movie. I love PAC and to this day I still listen to his songs. That being said, this movie was not good. It was just missing something. Maybe my expectations were to high but I was disappointed. He will live forever in my eyes. He was a talent that we will never see again. His music will live forever, that’s why he is a legend, and always will be.

  26. Los Rodriguez says:

    He’s the man and I loved the movie ! They did a great job and I am happy I saw it

  27. Roger C Smith says:

    Eloquent review, I’m glad I read it. Perhaps the need to portray different personas in his real life is what made him so effective on the screen.

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