At first, All Eyez On Me, the new biopic on rap sensation Tupac Shakur (Demetrius Shipp Jr.), comes off as a film trying to be efficiently synoptic, if not a bit rushed in getting to the point.
Within 15 minutes, we watch Tupac’s pregnant mother (played with a tenacious vigor by Danai Gurira) being released from prison, Tupac growing up in a family being watched by the FBI for Black Panther and perhaps criminal affiliations, and moving to Baltimore where his love of poetry and Shakespeare eventually leads to his rap career (once he moves again, this time to Oakland).
This is the first half of the first act. The film runs rampant with pacing issues that demand acute attention to understand who the rapper is interacting with throughout his life (even if those characters end up disappearing for the majority of the film anyway, only to pop up later for brief resolutions to their arcs).
The film moves much too fast through his upbringing and rise into the music industry. After a scene of him moving to California, a 30-second scene and one single line, delivered in voiceover, Tupac is signed to a major record deal.
Important or potentially intriguing plot points and character relationships are brushed over in this film, while other subplots are given a lot of screen time in comparison. The beginning of the film sets up Tupac’s family as a pivotal arc in the film, but only his mother remains a character throughout the film. Even she only pops in once and a while to inject some powerfully-delivered motivation to the young rapper.
Tupac’s sister, on the other hand, has some screen time early on, and some character pieces are introduced for her. In Baltimore, there is discussion of her studying for school. Then, when the family moves to California, she disappears until Tupac has enough success to give her money. Here, we see her seemingly in dire straits, but we have no idea how she got to that point. Her character has become a victim to the frenetic pacing of the film, which cuts between subplots in a way that makes few of them read coherent as a result.
And she is not the only character that this happens to. Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham) is a love interest to Tupac when he is in high school. He later visits her once she moves to Hollywood to begin her acting career. Then, she falls off until near the end of the movie, where she returns to condemn Tupac for losing sight of what they believed in. But her absence in the majority of the film deflates whatever dramatic tension this moment has.
The notorious relationship between Pac and Biggie (Jamal Woolard) is even lacking in narrative drive. In reality, this relationship is one of the most intriguing in Tupac’s story. There’s is a friendship dissolved through the seedy choices made by those around the two larger-than-life figures, a dissolution with mortal consequences.
In the film, this relationship isn’t explored in nearly enough depth to do the two figures justice.
Even from scene to scene, the film doesn’t quite know how to handle pacing. There is rarely time to breathe within a scene before it reaches its zenith or simply fizzles out into the next.
These scenes occasionally provide strong moments of speechifying that are pointed and riveting, but these monologues seem forced into scenes that don’t know how to handle the impact of the otherwise well-written words.
All Eyez on Me tries to cram a storied, multi-faceted life and career into a two hour and twenty minute movie, and it still feels rushed at this runtime. In spite of a great performance from Gurira and a good, if not rough around the edges, performance from Shipp, the film is too messy from a narrative standpoint to truly encapsulate the essence of Tupac Shakur.
All Eyez on Me: C-
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)