All Eyez On Me Review: When a Great Story is Told Badly

You can’t start a conversation you don’t know how to have.

With the world only a couple of years removed from the phenomenal Straight Outta Compton, a Tupac biopic sounded like a fantastic idea. There was clearly a market for it, hip-hop artists’ lives seemed to make for gripping, emotional stories, and it would even fit perfectly within the current political climate. Conceptually, this is as close to a sure thing as you can get. The world didn’t even need a great Tupac movie, all it really needed was a half-decent one. Unfortunately All Eyez On Me is not that.  The main issues aren’t with the acting, characters, general inaccuracies, or many of the common problems people have with biographical or historical films. Those issues were all there, but director Benny Boom has a much greater and deeper affliction present in his story: he just doesn’t seem to know how to tell one.

Audiences go into theaters to see a biopic for one of three reasons: they’re already a big fan of the person, they want to learn more about the person’s life, or the movie looks like it will tell a compelling story. Usually, the film can cater to at least one, though hopefully all, of these groups. If we’re to take movies on their own terms, then to what extent a biopic meets these goals is an effective way to measure its success and quality. All Eyez On Me doesn’t really work for any of those three groups, so let’s break down the film to see how and why it disappoints each of them.

If you’re a huge Tupac fan, you may actually be able to get some small amount of enjoyment from the film, but don’t get your hopes up too high.  Tupac’s gift as a rapper isn’t given nearly enough screen time. We only see him rap at most about 5 times in the whole film (which runs almost 2.5 hours, but more on that later). Why would you take rapping out of a movie about a rapper? My only guess would be that the actor playing ‘Pac,  Demetrius Shipp, Jr., can’t rap. He starts to at some points in the film, but is quickly cut away from or drowned out by dialogue. I know rapping isn’t Tupac’s whole life, and there’s much more to tell, but I loved seeing NWA actually perform and record in Straight Outta Compton, and there’s no reason it couldn’t have played a larger role in this film. And still, if you are a huge fan and truly believe the movie needed minimal music to be successful, Tupac’s actual story is butchered too. Most people are familiar with Jada Pinkett Smith’s complaints or the iPhone that allegedly was in one of the scenes (I didn’t see it), but even ignoring those the movie doesn’t get enough into Tupac’s real life to add any sort of excitement for the die-hards.

From a purely biographical standpoint, audiences can prepare to walk out of the theater with just as much knowledge about him as they walked in with. The film’s absurd pacing makes it incredibly difficult to keep track of. The first 20 or so years of ‘Pac’s life happen in what feels like an hour long montage of unrelated vignettes. It feels as though someone made a Tupac web series of about 20 very short stories from his life, and this is the compilation  of all of those. The pacing is such that viewers can’t really get into any sort of emotional arc before the film moves on to the next one. What’s more, most of them didn’t even happen. When the first hour of a 2.5 hour film leaves out key information, it makes me wonder how long the first cut of the film was. Yikes. The last hour and a half is much, much slower and covers the last 5 years. This is the better half of the film, but really breaks down into just a series of disasters stemming from the hip-hop lifestyle. I gained absolutely no new information from this format and that’s key to what a biographical films need to do. The worst part is that the story, the real life one, is actually great. There’s a lot there, I don’t know how they failed to use it.

On top of all that, the movie has very little emotion to it. The struggle of the Shakur family as they grow up is not emphasized nearly enough. To follow one of Tupac’s own metaphors, more time needs to be spent watching the rose grow out of the concrete. Instead, Boom just transplants the rose and expects us all to believe it grew there on its own just because he tells us it did. There’s no emotion in that at all (sidebar: wouldn’t “The Rose That Grew From Concrete” have just been a better title?). If someone who knew nothing about who Tupac was stumbled into this movie thinking it was fiction, they’d probably be utterly confused and forget the movie in a heartbeat. The fact that it’s about who it’s about is the only reason we’re talking about the movie. Go ahead, disagree with me. You can’t. That’s not a sign of a good film. Even the obvious themes in Tupac’s life or the built-in rags to riches story aspects aren’t utilized. It would be easy to make a statement or teach a lesson here, but that’s not what happens.

Oh, and apparently the guy who played Snoop Dogg didn’t sound enough like him, so they had to dub in Snoop’s voice. That was fun.

The Verdict: Not a good movie, not enough to please the die-hards, not an accurate depiction, and not an educational experience. How else should I measure it? No Tupac fans were made from this movie, I can guarantee that. I simply can’t think of a way this movie was successful. As much as I wanted this movie to be good, the final result just has to be:

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