Hip hop can often be thought of as an autobiographical artform, with rappers telling snippets of their life stories through their songs. In recent years, many of them have had their accounts immortalised on-screen and with crime biopic All Eyez on Me, director Benny Boom is giving the cinematic treatment to Tupac Shakur, perhaps the most controversial rap artist of them all. The plot retells his do-rags to riches tale from his turbulent childhood through to his infamous East Coast-West Coast rivalry with friend turned foe Notorious B.I.G.
Despite having a narrative that stretches over two hours with writers on screenplay duties, the film manages to plod through key events without a strong focus, not exploring any aspect of his complex life in full. The structure feels both conventional and confused as flashbacks are implemented in the beginning to give glimpse of his troubled upbringing before a generic gangster tone is adopted for a heavy-handed final act. The amateurish execution marks a wasted opportunity as Boom barely scratches the surface of Shakur’s undeniable talent, choosing instead to convey him as a thuggish criminal with a chip on his shoulder.
Casting Demetrius Shipp Jr. as Tupac Shakur is a masterstroke as he bears an uncanny resemblance to the rapper. However, once you see past the physical likeness, the performance itself is solid if unremarkable. As his career develops, we are expectedly introduced to the posse of players that moved in the same circles in that era, actors appearing as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Faith Evans, Suge Knight and of course Biggie Smalls. The conveyor belt of famous face cameos is so fleeting though that nobody sticks around in the film long enough to make a lasting impact.
In an early scene, Tupac Shakur tells his mother that he wants to be a revolutionary. The legacy he left behind is evidence of that, and his music not only changed the face of rap music but influenced the next generation of artists. All Eyez on Me on the other hand is far from revolutionary and lacks all the creativity and imagination that its subject possessed, giving a glossed-over depiction that fails to do him the justice he deserves.