Tupac Shakur lead an incredible life that changed culture and entertainment forever, but almost none of that happens in All Eyes On Me, impossibly dull biopic that took more than six years, four directors, and countless drafts to make. Things might be a bit better if people walking the Earth today did not remember the life and career of Tupac Shakur, but many of us do and we know little about either is found in this disastrous feature.
Playing like a Wikipedia page brought to life, All Eyez on Me manages to touch on nearly every major moment in Tupac’s short life without giving us an ounce of insight into the man himself. It’s less of a narrative and more a series of vignettes playing out like separated short films held together by the almost constant presence of lead actor Demetrius Shipp Jr. Moments in Tupac’s life fade in and fade out with little to no connective tissue other than the fact they all took place in the life of one individual. Why they happened and what kind of fallout ensued is rarely shown and almost never explored. It simply happens, moving scene to scene with no sense of direction other than a fairly straightforward outline stretching from birth to death.
All of this would be fine, but still far from great, if the moments in Tupac’s life that All Eyez On Me chooses to focus on happened as they are shown. Instead, the film cobbles together highlights from the late rapper’s life and strings them together in a way befitting the most rote family dramas on broadcast television. In one sequence, for example, Tupac records a few of his biggest hits back to back in two separate studios moments apart from one another as if it’s nothing. In another moment he reads a poem to his longtime girlfriend, Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham), which the real life Pinkett did not even know existed until it was printed in a collection of poetry from Shakur years after his passing.
None of these fictitious takes on real life events necessarily hurt Tupac’s legacy, but they also do not do it justice. Here we have a film about one of the most iconic artists in all of recorded history that spends literally no time exploring his decision to start doing the thing that would make him famous. The film plays off things like rapping and acting as if they were fated from the moment Tupac was born, and their existence in the movie serves only to remind us of things Shakur did during his brief time in the spotlight. We never know why he did the things he did, nor do we get any sense of things left unsaid or undone. By propping Tupac up as some kind of flawless creative mind who always knew his next three moves in advance the film fails to give us any sense of connection to a man long heralded as the voice of the streets. He’s two-dimensional at best.
None of these shortcomings all on Demetrius Shipp Jr., who more than proves his acting chops in the few fleeting moments when the film manages to strike something of substance. One has to question whether or not we will see him continue to be a leading man though, as his likeness to Tupac is incredibly hard to shake. We’ll have to wait and see if he can make us see the man he really is in future features, but my hopes are high based on what we see here.
Also of note is the work of Walking Dead favorite Danai Gurira as Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur. She has more to do in the film than even her on screen son, often being forced into a position where every ounce of dramatic weight rests on her shoulders, and Gurira does not disappoint. Producers would be a fool to ignore her moving forward.
All Eyes On Me is quite possibly the worst music biopic ever made. It may even be worse than The Identical, the 2004 film loosely based on the life of Elvis that set records with how little business it did. I hope with every fiber of my being that All Eyes on Me will one day be a forgotten footnote in film history because a far superiors and much more honest film about Tupac Shakur exists, but until then this trope-laden biopic will no doubt help many a passive music fan kill two and a half hours of their life on streaming services. Those who know nothing about Tupac may walk away feeling as if they have learned something, but knowing now that not everything in the film is based in fact should make all viewers approach this title with great hesitation. Tupac was a man of the people who aspired to influence great chance, but like all of us he was a deeply flawed human being. He was far more complex than this movie seems to realize, and because of that you never learn anything of value about him through watching this feature. Don’t waste your time.