Where do I start? The beginning? I guess that’s fair.
It was a blistering Thursday. I was hauling ass to Jack London Square to catch the advance screening of All Eyez On Me, Benny Boom’s third feature and a biopic about Tupac’s life, loves and adventures. Granted, I didn’t know what to expect. And, in the presentation before the screening, a host claimed we’d be getting “the untold story.” After the fact – and if you’ve been online in the past week – I’m sure you can agree that the story was definitely untold because a hunk of it wasn’t true to begin with.
Biopics are no stranger to alternative facts. That much has been proven true, pun intended. But what hamstrings All Eyez in the actual factual category is that some key moments it hinges its dramatic pedigree on have been outright denied by the source itself. For those not on Twitter: on opening day, Jada Pinkett-Smith hopped on the timeline to set the record straight. What followed was a sharp, short and sweet denial that several pivotal scenes from the movie even happened. With the movie’s veracity in question, jokes and jokes and jokes, followed.
Which sucks. Because All Eyez is a rollicking, exhausting movie, clocking in at just over two and a half hours. From Pac’s meteoric rise to the continuous presentation of his trademark hotheadedness, the movie encapsulates his larger than life persona, and life. And when it’s at its best, All Eyez captures the ironically casual hugeness of the times. Tupac was making literal history, while also simply being a feisty young man who grew up under the wing of black activists. This collision of realities mimics that of a Straight Outta Compton or Malcolm X. In all cases, what may have looked like small, critical decisions in the present created ripples that quickly created some seriously momentous history.
All Eyez does a good job of showing that Pac was a fiery, strong-willed dude who wanted to make authentic music. And he did. Even if it showed how deeply contradictory he, and hip-hop, could be. As a young man grappling with the concept of power, he finds himself slung into the atmosphere while also becoming a literal target. The movie also makes note to not let you forget this literalness, often using Afeni (Danai Gurira) as the conduit. She’s especially pivotal in the first third of the film, though it feels as if she’s been directed to overact. It’s grating and adds to the collective cheesiness of All Eyez’s take on Pac’s early life, especially with scenes like a young Pac exclaiming “I’m gonna be a revolutionary!” that smash cuts back to the 90’s. The good news is these scenes get fewer and farther in between, ceding themselves to better scripted moments that lead down Pac’s faithful road to September 13, 1996.
Sadly, many of these better moments in All Eyez are also hamstrung by Benny Boom’s rhetorical hammer. Pac’s life is filled with both criminal and righteous violence, specifically on black bodies. In these moments, Boom cues slow-mo shots, cutting between mollywhoppings, shootings and stabbings and Demetrius Shipp Jr.’s silent, striking gaze.
Granted, this is a biopic. We signed up for a cinematic mixtape that’s part mythos and part greatest hits. And yet, from start to finish, I can’t shake the fact that All Eyez feels like a more coherent Belly. Which makes sense. Both Benny Boom and Hype Williams cut their teeth in striking visuals and dramatic storylines for music videos. In fact, Boom admits to studying under Williams before getting behind the camera himself. But I digress. Porting those music video skills over to feature length movies has its advantages…and its pitfalls. The benefits include unforgettable sequences, lighting and images that feel authentic. But, you also get films that lack coherence across acts, trading vignettes for the meatier storylines, campy dialogue and even some cut corners. I shit you not, there’s a few scenes in All Eyez that are completely anachronistic (extras clearly styled in 2000’s clothing and even an Instagram bodycon dress or two.)
Maybe that’s why John Singleton left the production. If you let the official stories state it, it was over “creative differences.” The specifics of which we may never know the truth of, in their juicy, gossipy entirety. And honestly, I wouldn’t doubt it if another Tupac biopic makes its way to the screen in the next decade.
All I can say is that right here, right now, All Eyez On Me is a movie that has a rough start but functions best in its midsection. His music, his thoughts and the people around him (including a scarily accurate Snoop impression that is rumored to be a voice-dub from Uncle Snoop himself,) bring the 90’s back in HD. Despite this, the spiral into Pac’s passing lags terribly, as different moments are drug out. As I sit here now, I’m not totally sure if that’s because we all know how it ends, or, if it’s because there’s a lot of scenes added in that take artistic license with Pac’s final 24 hours.
So, see it. Or nah. Considering the success of Straight Outta Compton, I’m damn sure we’ll see a Marvel Cinematic Universe-esque lineup of hip-hop biopics moving forward. You’ve got time. Regardless, Tupac’s life couldn’t be contained to any one piece of art, so while this movie may not be entirely accurate or entirely good unto itself, it exists. And in the larger continuum of Pac’s yuge mythos and death-defyingly prolific legacy, for better or worse, I’ll allow it.
Dap owns Timberland boots and is committed to loving black women, eating good food and diversifying media as he sees fit and while he can. He can be found yelling into the abyss and being snarky on the following: IG | Twitter