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All Eyez on Me is a biographical drama about the late-rapper Tupac Shakur. Named after one of his more famous albums, this film chronicles the events of Shakur's entire life from gestation in the womb of his mother to his eventual demise. The film stars Demetrius Shipp Jr. as Tupac, alongside a cast that includes Danai Gurira, Jamal Woolard, Kat Graham, Dominic L. Santana, Lauren Cohan, and Annie Ilonzeh.

Overall, this was an extremely disappointing film. I had heard rumblings about this being a weaker biopic, but I checked my expectations at the door and found that this film was even worse than the negative expectations I set aside on my way in. This genuinely made every mistake I could imagine a biopic making. It failed to develop a compelling lead, it told a story by showing a string of events rather than crafting a clear narrative, and it played more on the audience recognizing real life figures than actually developing them meaningfully into the story.

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Before we really dig into the negatives, it is useful to discuss some of the good things in this film. First, I thought it was visually interesting. I think director Benny Boom overdoes it in a lot of moments (and I have feelings about his use of slow motion that I’ll discuss later), but there are many really well shot and well developed moments in terms of the film’s visual language. Further, All Eyez on Me was comprehensive. This is tough to do in a biopic. I don’t think they pulled it off in any sense, but the attempt at doing so left a film that will have a nugget of positive for almost anyone with any interest in the hip hop world. Finally, the film has some good solitary moments. Throughout the story there are certain emotional highs and lows that land on the audience effectively. In those moments, I wondered what could have been with a better screenplay (and perhaps better performers as well).

The problems with this film are plentiful, but they really begin with the story and direction. This film doesn’t know what story it really wants to tell so it throws a little bit of everything at the wall. Want to see an African American woman fighting against the system with the Black Panthers? Got it. Want to see kids traumatized by police breaking into their home? Check. Want a somewhat touching story about Tupac growing up as a teen and loving Shakespeare? You’re in luck. Want to see Tupac in prison talking about the events of his earlier life and how he wound up in prison? Got that. Want to see Tupac’s time with Death Row Records and the genesis of Death Row East? That’s in this movie. Want to see Tupac’s demise? It didn’t skip that either. The vast array of things that occur in this film exemplify why it doesn’t work. It has no focus. It doesn’t know what it wants to be about and it ends up being about nothing which is why it was impossible to get invested as a viewer.

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The somewhat easy retort to the above negative is that this isn’t a film about an event, but a person. This is probably the biggest failing of the film: Tupac isn’t interesting at all. In fact, the most captivating moment with Tupac is when we get a clip of actual Tupac right before the credits. I don’t know if Demetrius Shipp Jr. is a bad actor or just not right for this role, but he had no personality. Tupac was a magnate, and that’s why people were drawn to his work. I got none of that from this character on screen which made it even worse that the film didn’t have any narrative focus.

The next thing that I want to talk about is this film’s attachment to references and characters that will be recognized. Several famous hip hop artists including Snoop Dogg (or Snoop Lion these days), Notorios B.I.G., and Puff Daddy are portrayed in the film, as are some other famous figures including Jada Pinkett (now Jada Pinkett-Smith). In some ways, this was unavoidable. However, the film slows its pace down to a halt to announce these characters because it knows the audience will recognize who they are. In fact, on several occasions, Boom actually uses slow motion to accentuate the moment. This is one of the greatest crimes any biopic can commit. The film is no longer attempting to get the audience invested through story, but rather through recognizable cameos. It’s a bad crutch and one that ruined a lot of this movie for me.

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Shifting gears a little bit, I want to talk about this film in comparison to a biopic very much in the same space that did a far better job with its material, 2015’s Straight Outta Compton. That film, similarly, needed to have cameos from recognizable figures (including Tupac interestingly enough), but it paid them almost no attention. It told a streamlined storyline about the development of a friendship and artistic bond between three guys and made you feel real emotions as a result of the struggles they encountered. This movie had the much easier task of telling one person’s story but, by failing to make him compelling in any way (or failing to even have an opinion on how one should feel about Tupac as a general matter prior to the finale), it didn’t deliver a story I could care about.

Similarly, in terms of music, Straight Outta Compton blows this film out of the water. Yes, I am a bigger NWA fan than a Tupac fan, however, it was the filmmaking that made the difference in these films. Both have concert sequences where they trot out some hits (and All Eyez on Me even has a music video from Digital Underground). In Compton, the audience got invested. People sang along and I remember people actually dancing in the theater. It achieved this by building up to these moments by ratcheting up the emotion and letting it release musically in a cathartic way that made audience members surrender to the film. All Eyez on Me doesn’t manage this at all. The musical sequences are just presented and, though they are some of the stronger parts of the film, they just don’t have the same kind of euphoric resonance that they should.

All Eyez on Me is a film that had a lot of promise, and one that was highly anticipated after the wild success of Straight Outta Compton. This proves that it isn’t content, but filmmaking that counts. Without great direction, performances, and screenwriting, this film failed on almost every level and is one of the worst biopics I’ve seen in a long time. It is kind of a shame that this got made. Maybe they can pull the Tupac actor from Straight Outta Compton with that team and do the man justice by telling a decent story. Benny Boom and company failed spectacularly here.
Ryan’s Score: 4/10 

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About the Author
Author: Ryan McKenna