Review: All Eyez On Me

Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Director: Benny Boom
Writers: Jeremy Haft & Eddie Gonzalez
Starring: Demetrius Shipp Jr., Danai Gurira, Kat Graham
Genre: Biographical Drama
Rated: R
The story of the rise of rapper and activist Tupak Shakur, who, after a rough start to life, moves to California to try to make it as a hip-hop artist while struggling to retain his voice against a variety of social, cultural, and industry pressures. Despite centering around a unique and controversial icon, the film often falls into patterns of generic characterization and storytelling and fails to establish a strong identity of its own.

Content Guide

Precursor to this content guide: This movie has an R rating, and for good reason. View at your own risk.
Violence/Graphic Images: There are fights and brawls all throughout the film, usually consisting of tackling, punching, and kicking. Several people get shot, including a child. One character gets shot five times while lying defenseless on the ground (this is the only shooting where blood is shown). Several characters get beaten. One character gets stabbed to death, and some blood is shown.
Language/Crude Humor: The language is pretty much what can be expected from film centered around rap culture. F**k, d**n, a**, n*****r, b***h, h**l, and s**t are all used frequently.
Drug/Alcohol References: Characters are regularly seen drinking and smoking. Harder drugs are briefly present, though the protagonist rejects them and criticizes other characters for using them.
Sexual Content: Scantily clad girls and shirtless males are frequently on screen, especially during the many “after parties.” There’s one sequence with several topless girls. There’s an obstructed view of a girl performing oral sex. Some other characters are implied or stated to have slept with one another. The protagonist is accused of rape, and it’s implied that his roommates may have sexually abused a girl, though nothing is shown.
Spiritual Content: There are a couple of speeches where Tupac mentions God, such as his response to the judge after being found guilty at his trial (“I’m not in your hands. I’m in God’s.”). One of the label executives claims to be Jewish.
Other Negative Content: The protagonist spends the movie in a constant slide towards overindulgence in a wanton lifestyle. Immorality is, at worst, glorified, and at best, ignored. The lyrics of many of the rap songs, both in the soundtrack and in the movie itself, have profane or derogatory lyrics. There are also frequent obscene hand gestures.
Positive Content: Tupac has a strong relationship with his sister and mother. His sister also confronts him at one point about the immoral lifestyle he’s developed, though her disapproval doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on him.

Review

For a movie about someone struggling to make his voice heard, I wish that All Eyez on Me had had more…well…voice. While there were flashes of passion and thought-provoking perspectives, the story often sinks into superficial portrayals of the titular rapper indulging in all the vices of a superstar lifestyle, while sidelining the sense of vision and drive that make him a compelling character in the first place. Even when I wanted to root for Tupac, I often found myself unsure of exactly what I was supposed to be cheering for him to accomplish.
This ambiguity is mostly due to the story’s pacing. Large swaths of time are spent focusing on either extended lead-ups to plot points, or minor interactions that aren’t really significant to the overall arc. As it loses any direction or sense of purpose, the film eventually, and very noticeably, begins to drag, with several series of inconsequential scenes leading into one another with very little coherency and for no real discernible reason. While I don’t begrudge these details being present–they’re obviously necessary for a successful biopic–they definitely don’t hold enough weight to be in the spotlight as much as they are. A movie this long needs every scene to be able to justify its addition to the runtime. All Eyez on Me, on the other hand, ends up with a good deal of fluff.
In the midst of all this, we get very little sense of the significance of Tupac’s work or the qualities that really made him stand out as a relevant and nuanced individual. Many of the film’s characters tend to devolve into shallow stereotypes: evil police officers, violent rappers, ignorant old white men, gangsters, and so on. With the character of Tupac, however, we see glimpses of uniqueness and passion that set him apart from his peers, but they’re inconsistent, sliding between acting like a groundbreaking visionary and seeming like a generic, if successful, hip-hop artist. During the times when his passion for the meaning of his work took a backseat to the frills and pleasures of his career, I felt as though I were watching someone’s life without really being allowed to see the essence of the person living it, outside of a few short speeches. When part of the heart of your film is reduced to a series of cameos, something, somewhere, has gone off the rails.
Most of the movie’s soundtrack is comprised of various rap songs, most which I don’t feel particularly qualified or inclined to comment on. There was one scene, though, with Tupac’s mother leaving prison after visiting her son, where I thought that the music overlay was brilliant: the juxtaposition of the heartfelt, regretful lyrics and the visual of a devastated mother was simply perfect, and for me, it was easily the film’s most powerful emotional moment.
I don’t need my protagonists to be sanitized, demonized, or exalted. I can handle sameness, and I can handle ugliness. But at the end of it all, I do need to see something different and special. This is especially true when the power of a single character is meant to be the main draw, and that’s where I feel that All Eyez on Me falls short.
It’s likely that my own lack of knowledge about the film’s subject played a role in my lack of enjoyment. But I walked into the theater not knowing much about Tupac Shakur, and I walked out not knowing much more. What’s worse, I walked out without much reason to care.

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The Bottom Line

 

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Ian Hancock

Ian is a speculative fiction writer with an English degree from the University of the Fraser Valley. When he's not writing, he enjoys strategy games, sports, anime, and finding new ways to make fun of life.

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