Directed by Benny Boom and written by Jeremy Haft & Eddie Gonzalez and Steven Bagatourian, All Eyez on Me tells the true story of prolific rapper, actor, poet, and activist Tupac Shakur, from his early days in New York City through his evolution into one of the world's most influential voices before his untimely death at the age of 25.
All Eyez on Me is a startlingly bland and anemic film about a larger-then-life, controversial figure whose violent death has now made him a pop legend. What should have been a complex and dramatic biography of rap artist and actor Tupac Shukur has instead been reduced to a series of stilted visual and sound bites assembled almost incoherently into an obscenity-filled Lifetime movie-of-the-week. The characters and their relationships should have been as fascinating as those displayed in Notorious, the 2009 biopic of fellow rapper Notorious BIG (played by Jamal Woodward in both movies), and the music performances should have been as electric as those seen in Prince's Purple Rain. However, All Eyez on Me is at least 20 minutes longer than either of those films, and not even half as interesting.
The life of "Pac" begins with an interview of the imprisoned artist, exposing his life story to a sympathetic documentary filmmaker. This awkward set-up results in a clumsy first hour of jumbled childhood flashbacks, filled with random characters spouting stilted dialogue. There are disconnected leaps in time and location (captions indicating dates and places show up with no consistency) as we follow Tupac's career, but the viewer feels no involvement. At one point, the film shows Tupac recording his music in a studio, arrogantly showing off his technical skills, and the suddenly, we are on the set of a movie (Juice) where his dialogue delivery is so awe-inspiring, that he manages to elicit a chorus of "oohs!" and "aahs!" from a theatrical audience. How he jumped from rapper to movie actor is not clearly explained, and the lack of evolution in Tupac's character make his accomplishments seem inconsequential. The first half of the film is also doggedly and stereotypically political, with Tupac's mom making grandstanding speeches as a member of the Black Panthers, and emphasizing how the FBI targets Tupac's militant step-father as one of their most wanted. All of this is dramatized to show just how wicked White Men can be. While social inequity and legal injustice are significant issues which exist today, this kind of shallow portrayal diminishes the seriousness of the subject and reduces characters to single dimensions.
The second half of the movie is a bit more coherent, as the storytelling proceeds in a more linear manner addressing the rapper's problems with the law, business dealings with Death Row Records, romantic interests, and territorial confrontations. Yet, it all feels sanitized and cartoony. He is abused by police in and out of jail, shot five times by his rivals, confronts drug dealers who push their stuff on his activist mother, is placed on trial for assault and rape, but every emotional response is neutered by all the self-rightousness of the character and unimaginative re-enactments of history. These significant events in Tupac's life are like reading stats off a baseball card.
It would not be too much of a spoiler to state that Tupac was shot and killed while in Law Vegas back in 1994, and the speculative events leading up to this "assassination" (Chris Rock once made a very insightful and hilarious joke about using this term) become the focal point. However, the build up is lackluster and unexciting, leading to a climax which is strangely uninvolving. Again, fault must lie with the bloodless direction (no pun intended), which looks like it was done by computer and then edited haphazardly. Dramatically speaking, I was more moved by the ending of Selina than I was with this movie.
The actors themselves seem to do their best with the material. Dominick L. Santana is restrained and imposing as Suge Knight, fulfulling the reputation of the controversial rap producer and music executive without turning him into a parody. Kat Graham plays Jada Pinkett (now best known as the wife of Will Smith) with class and composure, although her character is given short shrift because we are never shown why she means so much to Tupac, nor are we made aware of her influence, save for a pivotal scene where she accuses him of being a sell-out. Sadly, Demetrius Shipp, Jr. as Tupac suffers most from the weak script: since we are not made to care too much about the character, all of his political stances and artistic proclamations don't resonate as they should. There are times where Shipp's portrayal appears to be merely pompous and self-pitying rather than inspiring, and there's only so much I can take of an unsavory main character. Demetrius looks like Tupac, but whether he captures the artist himself I'll never know unless I look elsewhere. I went into this movie with a keen interest in the life and times of Tupac Shukur. But two and a half hours later, I ended up bored by the movie, and uninterested in the main character.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
All Eyez on Me is packaged with an accompanying DVD and Digital HD download compatible with Ultraviolet or iTunes. The main feature and its contents are stored on a single platter BD50, with both discs encased in a standard keepcase, which in turn is housed in a cardboard slipcase where back and front cover art is reprinted. When set to play, front-loaded previews may be skipped in order to get to the main menu.
All Eyez on Me makes its high defintiion debut in a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoded presentation, with an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. From beginning to end, All Eyez on Me looks clean and crisp, with nary a drop of grain and no apparent artifacts. While all this sterility may be easy on the eyez (sorry) for casual viewing, the picture is missing the kind of urban grittiness which might otherwise convey the "tough streets" of Pac's personal and professional environment. It looks like a moderately budgeted made-for-TV production, and not the kind of larger-than-life storytelling required for a person of this notoriety.
On the whole, however, there is little too complain about when it comes to scrutinizing image quality. Colors are well-presented, particularly in scenes which are bathed in red such as Suge Knight's office, or during tage shows where shades of black and borwn are well-defined and glowing blue lights are everywhere. Details seem to be smoothed over a bit due to the occasionally hazy cinematography, adding yet another layer of veneer to what should be a hard-edged movie. The visuals are satisfactory, but certainly not satisfying.
The movie provides a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, but the surround mix is only in 5.1 channels. Most modern releases have at least a 7.1 presentation, if not a Dolby Atmos, so the lack of a more immersive aural experience is curious for a movie of this genre. The soundtrack of All Eyez on Me focuses mainly on dialogue, but it pumps up the volume when it comes to the music, punctuated with distinctive sound effelcts like the occasional ringing of gunshots and revving engines of fast cars as the story progresses. Crowds paryting it up are heard in the rear channels as busy ambience, but at low levels.
Once the music kicks in, the audio suddenly becomes more dynamic and predictably bass heavy. Stereo separation grows wider with the instrumental soundstage, and the surround activity emerges unobtrusively And while this music is not my cup of tea, there is no doubt that one can't help but be emotionally and physically moved by the pounding drums and thundering low-end notes. Still, this isn't the brash, feel-it-in-your-gut soundtrack it could have been even with "only" five channels of directional sound. Vocals remain clear and loud which is undoubtedly a must for hip-hop tracks. If there is any lack of intelligibility with the lyrics, the fault lies in the delivery of the performer as opposed to the Blu-ray reproduction.
As if to make up for the deficiencies in the main feature, the Blu-ray provides ample supplements on Tupac. Much of it is a bit self-congratulatory and full of unqualified praise and awe of the subject matter, but there is more insight to the discussions than in the movie itself.
Legends Will Never Die: The Making of All Eyez on Me (26.46) Presented in high definition video and stereo audio, this featurette provides interviews and behind the scenes footage displayed in black and white, along with clips from the movie in full color. It's your typical self-important, yet superficial discussion of a product which in the end, doesn't warrant the hype.
All Eyez On Me Conversations: This is a round-table discussion of Tupac's work and influence, also presented in high definition video and stereo audio, covering the following sub-topics:
- Telling Tupac's Story (13:34) The filmmakers and the main actors discuss the making of the movie.
- Tupac's Influence on the Music World (14:04) Fellow artists and musicians join the filmmakers in sharing stories of their reactions to Tupac's music
- Tupac's Fashion And His Lasting Influence (7:42) This roundtable discussion touch upon his choices in clothing and accessories, which would be much improved if there were visuals to show his style rather than describing it. This is the weakest segment of the so-called "Conversations."
Demetrius Shipp, Jr. Audition (4:42) Mr. Shipp reads through lines of dialogue with an off-camera coach.
Deleted Scenes: I watched each edited segment, hoping that it would add to the film's content. With the exception of some additional footage showing Tupac's relationship with Leila Steinberg, an artist and activist who gave him his first break by introducing him to Digital Underground, none of these scenes add anything of substance to the film. All clips are displayed in high definition and in stereo sound, but some appear to be incomplete as a final production. These scenes are labeled as follows:
- Christmas (1:16) A young Tupac spends some Holiday time at home.
- Prison (:48) Tupac is enrolled into his temporary new home following a criminal conviction.
- Leila (:30) Lauren Cohan's character is given more lines setting up her relationship with Tupac.
- Digital Underground (:54) Tupac is given a break with the successful rap group.
- Audition (1:11) Tupac reads lines for a movie role.
- Support (:42) Tupac offers money to a homeless family.
- Shopping (:31) Tupac finishes shopping with his bodyguards.
- Pac and Biggie (:19) Tupac exchanges encouraging words with his fellow rapper.
- Faith (:52) Tupac flirts with Faith Evans.
- Casino (:19) Tupac plays craps.
All Eyez on Me isn't a disaster, but it is certainly a mess and an uninteresting one at that. I've always enjoyed cinematic biographies on musicians, no matter how cheesy or idealized, but this is one of the most disappointing in my years of film viewing and reviewing. I can only recommend this mediocrity to his most die-hard of fans.