All Eyez on Me: The Untold Story of Tupac Shakur, the first biopic on the West Coast rap icon, comes courtesy of L.T. Hutton. Before segueing into film and TV, he was an A&R rep at Eazy E’s Ruthless Records who also worked at Death Row, Tupac’s label home. “As a Hollywood producer, there aren’t many people with my background. I am rooted in this world,” Hutton said to Life + Times. But after being plagued with production issues, including a lawsuit against Tupac’s estate for rights to his music, the film isn’t any more satisfying than the conspiracy theories surrounding his shooting death at age 25.
Stills from All Eyez, helmed by music video director Benny Boom and primarily shot in Atlanta, can be striking. Costume buyer Kenya Ware, who once styled Tupac herself, hunted down apparel by now-obscure favorite brands like Karl Kani. Star Demetrius Shipp bears a striking resemblance to the titular rapper. He can also be just as magnetic, like a word-for-word reenactment of how Tupac addressed reporters outside a New York courthouse in 1993. That scene shows how, even while facing sexual assault charges, his outspokenness drew people closer. By the film’s end, though, these bright spots might be long forgotten.
All Eyez attempts to show how Tupac learned to speak up from his Black Panther parents and then evolved into a gangsta rap icon during the nineties, when murder was a marketing strategy. His dealing with these tensions, in his music and under the public eye, showed the world his humanity. Snoop Dogg tried explaining this just last month, while posthumously inducting Pac into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “To be human is to be many things at once,” he said. “Strong and vulnerable. Hardheaded and intellectual. Courageous and afraid. Loving and vengeful. Revolutionary and, oh yeah, don’t get it fucked up, gangsta.”
While depicting that journey, though, All Eyez defaults to a book report-style story that dutifully includes every prominent headline Tupac ever had in his short life — his legal troubles, the violence, altogether too much material to handle. The heart of All Eyez is how Tupac’s signing to Death Row fueled hip-hop’s defining East Coast-West Coast rivalry, with label head Suge Knight’s mafia tactics. Before that, though, its first act sprints through events from his formative years, from the FBI raiding his childhood home to his Hollywood debut in 1992’s Juice.
These earlier scenes could do better to establish the inspiration behind Tupac’s artistry, his antagonistic relationship against police and how he later identified with “THUG LIFE,” a rallying cry tattooed on his stomach that stood for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fuck Everybody.” But these scenes seem to appear solely out of obligation. “You will see the first time ‘Pac heard Big Daddy Kane and was hooked on the idea of a chocolate brother with an asymmetric cut and gold chains,” Hutton told Life + Times — a promise unfulfilled.
Despite being two-plus hours long, All Eyez barely allows time for context. In the film Tupac crosses paths with Faith Evans, then Notorious B.I.G.’s wife, though how that photo further soured Pac and Biggie’s friendship during that rap war barely gets acknowledged. A TV blares footage of C Delores Tucker, one of Tupac’s most vocal critics, who even gained support from a former U.S. Secretary of Education. But that scene alone isn’t enough to show how Tucker embodied the growing tensions between the Civil Rights Movement and hip-hop generations — old and new black activists. The only characterization of childhood friend Jada Pinkett Smith exists in a poem Pac wrote for her (“You bring me to climax without sex”). That aside, Smith (Kat Graham) only exists to help move the plot along — say goodbye as Tupac leaves Baltimore for the West Coast, question his morals once he finds fame, events that were entirely fictionalized.
All Eyez ends with an almost mundane, 20-minute timeline of events leading up to Tupac’s shooting death in Las Vegas on September 13, 1996. Actual footage from a brawl at the MGM Grand lobby flashes on the screen. Tupac changes into a basketball jersey and hops into a car with Knight without his bodyguard. The camera fixates on Koval Lane before it briefly cuts off and guns fire. The only detail that isn’t depicted, of course, is who shot Tupac, as the case is still unsolved.
Snoop has sworn up and down that while watching All Eyez, he saw his friend on screen. But by the time the rap icon appears lying on the ground, bloodied, as gospel music blares, All Eyez has yet to really show exactly why that loss was so palpable. And then, like Tupac’s life, it suddenly ends.