The story of Tupac Shakur is told through flashbacks in Summit Entertainment’s All Eyez on Me, as an incarcerated Shakur (mid-1990s) shares his story from Clinton Correctional Facility. Beginning in 1971, we see Shakur’s life grow in political aspiration and musical power from his parents’ leadership and outside forces that impacted his life.
The audience can see the power that authority (and a lack of respect) had on Shakur from an early age. His mother, Afeni Shakur (Danai Gurira, The Walking Dead), and stepfather, Mutulu Shakur (Jamie Hector, Bosch) are Black Panthers, who know the law and still find themselves at the mercy of the white police. As he grows into his young adult self, he’s now played by Demetrius Shipp Jr., and he finds himself struggling against her and with her. While she tells him, “I didn’t raise you to be silent!” she’s also angered when he challenges her decision to move he and sister across the country to California.
From Baltimore to California, Shakur struggles with the mixed messages he gets. He’s told to have a voice but he’s also challenged for what he says; he’s told to be respectful but he sees that anger and violence are the ways that many people in his community get their way. But then his poetry finds a place in the musical scene thanks (at first) to the Digital Underground.
Several of the major incidents in his life make the script of the film: his relationship (and non-relationship) with The Notorious B.I.G. (Jamal Woolard), the attack that first put him in the hospital, the rape charges that landed him in prison, the partnership with Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana). [One of the interesting notes is that compared to Straight Outta Compton, musicians of historical note are heroes or not, depending on which side of the musical divide the protagonists are on. Supposedly Knight signed off on this one.] Jada Pinkett [Smith] (Kat Graham), Faith Evans (Grace Gibson), Puff Daddy (Stefan Washington), Snoop Doog (Jarrett Ellis), and a host of others, all show up.
But it’s almost as if the film can’t contain it all. The film superficially covers plenty of Shakur’s experience, without always allowing us to see the why or the how. It’s clear though that Shakur is a man without a father, a man with many who play at being his father figure but fail to produce when the times are hard. Here is a man with much on his mind, and many things to say, but who struggles with the dichotomy between respecting his mom and hating who she is and how she acts.
In the end, he believes he’s only on his own, fighting through life just for survival. It’s a lonely place to be, but that’s what his life has forced him to see.
The special features add to the legend and give some insight into how Shipp played this man who is considered such a legend by many. There is the featurette Legends Never Die: The Making of All Eyez on Me, a look at Becoming Tupac, All Eyez On Me Conversations, the Demetrius Shipp, Jr. Audition, and deleted scenes.