All Eyez On Me
2 hrs 20 minutes, Rated R for Titties, Hoes, and Gangsta Shit
Is This Film Worth My Time? Its maybe worth a Netflix viewing if you’re not familiar with West Coast Gangsta Rap. Its a good musical primer to Tupac’s major hits.
West Coast Represent: Tupac was from West Oakland, pre-gentrification. I’m from Lamorinda. Nowhere can be found a greater distance between two places in a space of so few miles. The Caldecott’s are a wall, a natural fortification for maintaining segregation in Northern California. Lamorinda (Lafayette-Moraga-Orinda) is the home to Johannes Mehserle and many other members of the Oakland PD. West Oakland in the early 90s was every bit as bad as Compton or Cabrini Green. My childhood was the insulated antithesis of his every experience; and yet, the G-Funk sound swept over those hills, into the radios, everywhere. I’ve always felt that California Love was more fit to be an anthem for the state than I Love You, California.
What this means is that I’m the least qualified person to talk about the context of this film. I’m super-white, from a privileged suburbia, and Shakur might as well be rapping from the moon for all of the context and knowledge I have about the conditions that he lived in. His was a life that had levels of poverty and luxury that I will never experience. Our life experiences have been completely alien and antithetical. At best I can view this film with an anthropologists eye.
Tupac Shakur has become transubstantiated into a super-myth, a proxy for all the complexity and ambiguity of the G-Funk scene. His hologram shall keep dancing until the last 90s kid is dead. He is the greatest avatar of the celebrity death cult- a man who has made more albums and films as a corpse than alive, and who will make more money in that way as well.
The world loves a shooting star so long as it crashes brilliantly. And in hip-hop, Tupac was the one who burned bright at just the right time, died at just the right cusp. More than any other artist, Tupac brought the original spirit of Rock and Roll to hip-hop- that idea that you could flout any social norm, defy any tradition, be yourself and be more truly yourself through the fury of the music. Chuck D might have been earlier and angrier, but he was still deriving from an older tradition of black militant activism- S1W being modeled on the looks of the Black Panthers. Tupac evolved the language, the iconology of the Gangsta Rap movement, refining what had come before with NWA and Digital Underground into a body of work that is now considered definitive of the West Coast Sound.
And it is within that hagiography that director Benny Booms All Eyez on Me flows, cresting over key milestones and anecdotes from the man who coined the phrase Thug Life.
Who is this film perfect for? Young hip-hop fans who want a general digest of old school 90s rap.
Who will not like this film? A biopics entertainment quality hinges on the ability to deliver a visceral sense of either the subjects genius, charisma, pathos, or performance ability. While Demetrius Shipp manages to get the look of Tupac right, his performance doesn’t have the sheer intensity or pain that Tupac had. Were told about all the record setting platinum albums that Tupac’s releasing, but there’s never a moment in the film where the camera lingers long enough for us to be impressed.
What is the summary of this films concept? To live by Thug Life is to die by Thug Life. Don’t go shopping for new enemies when your family has already given you an impressive starting collection.
All Eyez on Me has much of the same anecdotal montage feel that these other films have. Where it differs is with the time spent on what would normally be elided- the nine months he spent in jail for sexual assault. Here, this time is the moment of meditation, where Tupac meets with old acquaintances and with the interviewer that provides the frame for the film.
What works in this film? The real standout portrayal is Danai Guriria, playing Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s mother. In the film, we see her go from being a woman of steel, to a struggling single mother, to an addict and then back to being the conscience and chorus of the film. Her wide, open eyes brim with a fury that is tempered only with cynicism at a society that provides you with the tools to destroy yourself.. I hope that Guriria’s performance gets a look during the awards season.
What fails in this film? Some of the most charismatic characters have the least charismatic actors. Jamal Woolard seems to be sleepwalking through his role as Biggie Smalls. The main, actor, Demetrius Shipp, as mentioned, gets some aspects right, like Tupac’s humor and swagger; but he just doesn’t manage the ferocity of the actual Tupac.
The 7 Day Theory: A cycle to everything, the menaces of 20 years ago are now just distorted icons trapped in amber, and the old gods just become the new dinosaurs. 2Pac may have deep meaning to one generation, but pretty soon, hell just be like Elvis, Jim Morrison- a signifier of age and little else.