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All Eyez On Me

Year: 2017
Production Co: Morgan Creek
Director: Benny Boom
Writer: Jeremy Haft/Eddie Gonzalez/Steven Bagatourian
Cast: Demetrius Shipp Jr, Danai Guria, Dominic L Santana

After the well-made Biggie Smalls biopic Notorious and the world-beating Straight Outta Compton, it felt like the last great rap biopic still to come was that of Tupac Shakur, which makes the letdown of this movie all the more disappointing.

'Wikipedia-page biopic', 'as compelling as a tax return', 'collection of scenes', 'straightforward and celebratory'. That's what some of the critics have said, but are they right? Yes and no. For all its wild success, Straight Outta Compton was similarly linear. You can see here that director Benny Boom and star Demetrius Shipp Jr (who looks so much like Tupac it's a bit scary) throw themselves into the script with as much passion and care as they can, but any problems are with the script itself.

It's not exactly slight, but while this kind of thing might have been fine once upon a time, the genre has become so well worn today we expect much more than just a camera pointed at a rags to riches story.

We want it to provide some insight into the person and how his or her story relates to a universality about the human condition, or at least how it humanises the subject using structures, storytelling devices or metaphors we haven't seen used before. In the case of Don Cheadle's noble failed experiment Miles Ahead, it uses a real figure to ruminate on the nature of biopics and screen storyelling themselves.

Another extreme expression of the form might be Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs, where the entirety of a man's struggle with his humanity was played out during the frenetic preprations for three product launches – not even the launches themselves, which would have been a weird enough way to do a biopic, but the arguments and conflicts going on while the stages are being set up, lights positioned, etc made the settings only more esoteric.

The very nuts and bolts All Eyez On Me is at the other end of the scale, showing us how a thing happened, then how another thing happened, etc, none of it plumbing for any particular depth beyond the portrayal. We witness Tupac's early days as a teenager with his lovable sister and strong willed mother (Danai Gurira), a firebrand activist who started out hanging around Black Panthers and ended up a crack addict, the entire time fixed with a permanently angry glare.

After moving around the country while his mother tries to outrun their past they finally end up in California (and even though the narrative is straightforward there are still some gems of trivia – I had no idea Tupac had been a backup singer for the Humpty Dance guy). Tupac's career starts to take off and if there is a theme or moral to the story it's that the thing his mother fears the most ('they're going to give you the tools to destroy yourself', as she spits in her trailer-worthy line) starts to come true.

Tupac starts to believe his own mythology, especially when he falls under the spell of larger – and shadier – than life characters like Suge Knight (Dominic L Santana). What many see as a platform to bring about change and shine a light on the injustices faced by his people becomes a haze of drugs, cars, guns and hos. If you know anything about Tupac's real life, little that takes place is really a surprise, even if it's interesting to finally see it portrayed.

And for all the complaints about how ineffectual it is, the script does play a little bit with the structure, although to what end isn't clear. We start by meeting Tupac during his jail stint along with a reporter who's come to interview him, most of the early scenes flashbacks of a sort. But when Suge Knight springs him and offers him the Faustian bargain he never escaped from, it becomes much more linear.

Even though it's decent enough to keep you entertained, it never really gets under Shakur's skin apart from some pat scenes of his terminally enraged mother wishing he was more of a figurehead of the black anger movement.

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