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All Eyez On Me: Movie Review

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The problem with a life that shines bright and burns out too soon is that you know it doesn’t end well. Tupac shone brighter than most during his far-too-short life and prolific career. The man was larger than life, and his life was stranger than fiction. All Eyez on Me tries to shine the slain rapper’s light anew, placing his life and career in context for 2017 audiences. A life of dramatic twists and turns that ends tragically is rich with material, so some of the liberties taken with the truth is puzzling. Still, as a Tupac fan, I enjoyed revisiting his work and marveling at his enormous talent, even if the movie itself wasn’t perfect.

At nearly 2 ½ hours, All Eyez on Me is not a quick walk down memory lane, nor should it be. It takes time to delve into the complexities of Tupac’s life. Even with a lengthy running time, the pacing sometimes feels rushed, particularly early in the film. A few questionable cinematographic choices and occasionally wooden acting comprise the biggest knocks on this film, and these are minor at worst. I often struggle with biopics because of their tendency to favor drama over truth. Jada Pinket Smith (Kat Graham), who was a dear childhood friend to Tupac, bristled at the reimagining of their relationship, offering her version of events in a series of tweets. Music is integral to this movie and the score cleverly signals both time and place, which takes particular importance as the East Coast/West Coast rivalry heats up.

Tupac was a true icon, an enduring figure whose life still resonates over 20 years after his death. Demetrius Shipp, Jr. (Tupac Shakur), is to be commended for his courage taking on the starring role. What was asked of him might be impossible. While his resemblance to the late rapper/actor is remarkable and he gives a spirited performance, Shipp manages only flashes of the charisma that Tupac embodied, probably even in his sleep. Though not a major player in the film, Jarrett Ellis (Snoop Dogg) was uncanny in sounding like Snoop, if not exactly looking like him. I guess you can’t have everything. Real-life Tupac was never at a loss for words that provoked thought, and just as often, sharp rebuke. Love him or hate him, Tupac spoke with passion about the world and its cruel systemic flaws. It was that passion, the sparkle in his eye, and an air of unpredictability that opened minds to his message, no matter the medium. He was exciting to follow and his death was all too predictable, if only in retrospect.

Tupac was as electrifying as he was complicated. He embodied contradictions that confused, frightened, and angered some, while making an indelible mark on the hearts of countless fans the world over. The same Tupac who recorded “Brenda’s Got a Baby” made a track called “I Don’t Give a F**k” on the same record. He’s also the same rapper who made “Keep Ya Head Up” and “I Get Around”. Those who reacted to Tupac with fear, anger, or both, seize upon these contradictory notions, claiming the latter tracks show the rapper’s true nature, while dismissing the former as disingenuous efforts of a misogynist to obscure his true nature. This shortsighted view fails to recognize that people are multi-dimensional. Tupac’s early life in a world that creates and ignores suffering like Brenda’s has an inevitable, and predictable reaction — fuck the world. This film attempts in earnest to capture this complexity, but director Benny Boom may have faced his own impossible task, as movies are ill-suited to this depth of exploration.

People’s views on Tupac open an ideological window. Those who feel threatened by or don’t understand his message focus on his thug-life, outlaw imagery and scapegoat him for corrupting America. He didn’t choose the world he was born into any more than he created the struggle that shaped his life. He was a product of his environment, as are we all. Tupac held up a mirror to America and a lot of people didn’t like what they saw. That reflection didn’t smooth out our flaws in the way our mind’s eye is more than willing to indulge us. We could see through Tupac America’s shortcomings, all the ways we have failed to realize the promise of a nation with unprecedented wealth. All Eyez on Me works as a love letter to the fallen rapper, but only scratches the surface of his life and legacy.

All Eyez on Me (2017)
Director:  Benny Boom
Studio:  Open Road Films
Genre:  Biopic, Drama, Music
MPAA:  R
Release Date:  June 16th, 2017
Author:  Jason M. Brown
Jason MBrown Seattle native Jason M. Brown traded liquid sunshine for the real thing when he recently moved to San Diego. Jason graduated from Washington State University with a Humanities degree focusing on English and has worked as a copywriter. An avid fan of comedy, horror, and almost any movie that started as a comic book, Jason lives in California, but still loves Seattle Seahawks football, apologies to the Chargers.

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