On the way to seeing ‘All Eyez On Me’, I heard ‘Ambitions as a ridah’ playing from someone’s car stereo. It put me in a mode of thinking of how to this day, this man’s music is still revered and beloved to this day, it sure as hell put me on a hype. It was part of what I was looking for in the much anticipated Benny Boom helmed biopic, I wanted to feel the genius and drive 2pac imbued in his craft.
Originally this was to be directed by John Singleton who’s responsible for the likes of 2 Fast 2 Furious and Boyz N Tha Hood (one of my all time favourites). Instead it gets passed down to music video director, Benny Boom who’s direction is as Glenn Kenny from The New York Times describes as ‘uniformly uninspired’. Boom stated that he wanted to reveal to people the 2pac they hadn’t seen before, before Death Row. I could pretty much guess what song and what pivotal moment in his life was to happen next, and I don’t mind predicting things. But when you can predict throughout the movie what happens next, it leaves little surprise and feels like you’re ahead of the movie itself.
The highlight by far is newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr’s performance as Pac who not only strikes an uncanny physical resemblance to the man but also manages to sell Pac’s audacity, sense of urgency and confident swagger. Demetrius method acting approach included reading the books Pac read, learned Shakespeare and almost every night before he went to sleep, he watched his Pac’s interviews.
Danai Gurira (Michonne from The Walking Dead) does fine work as Afeni Shakur who gives us a strong, fierce, defiant woman who clearly is Pac’s biggest influence on his life. Herself and her Pac’s stepfather Mutulu Shakur were members of the Black Panthers, Mutulu exclaims “I’d rather die on my feet, than live on my knees”. Words that would register with 2pac for the rest of his life. Pac carried with him a sense of honour and unwavered sense of responsibility to be a voice for the people, showcased particularly on songs like ‘Brenda’s got a baby’ and ‘Keep yah head up’.
Yet the movie never really does anything interesting in conveying those traits, Demetrius is doing much of the work really. If anything this feel like it could’ve been broadcast through Lifetime TV. Much of the film’s score is rather cheesy.
Much of Benny’s style derives from his work from music videos such as many shots of women’s assets and Pac’s songs over sequences that just make it feel like….well a music video. That’s something F.Gary Grey’s Straight Outta Compton did well, was that it didn’t just play their music for the sake of it, it was played at moments when the characters were playing it. I can’t deny, I was silently chanting back the music being played but shortly before that I predicted which song was going to play next, it’s fan service I guess but that’s part of the movie’s problem, it’s predictably.
There’s a key scene involving Pac while he’s in incarceration and a reporter when Pac is challenged with the conflict of personas he carries, something I’ve always had issue with Pac. His recognition of a woman’s worth in this world with songs like Keep Yah Head Up’ is contradicted by his whole ‘Thug Life’ bravado, Pac simply replies with ‘Just because you don’t understand it, it don’t mean there’s something wrong with me’, yet the movie doesn’t seem to defend that view. It just seems like it’s saying “ok, here’s what happened next”. Even if it is a biopic, the director still needs to find means of surprising the audience and to deliver an interpretation of sorts as to how they think things went down and more so leave things fairly open ended for the audience to interpret.
The most unforgivable aspect is when the actor who portrays Snoop Dogg has Snoop’s actual voice played over his and is lip synching. It’s so cheap and distracting, what’s more he’s the only one they do that to.
One of the greatest and most influential rappers of all time was taken away, the investigation of which is still to this day is frustratingly unresolved. Unfortunately what we get is a by the numbers biopic that never really investigates Pac’s mind-set, what led to September 7th 1996. You could be the biggest super fan and you could walk away from this still not feeling that inspired and enlightened by his legacy.