There's a clear sense that this Tupac Shakur biopic is hoping to build on the momentum that started with Straight Outta Compton but, despite an even stronger story, this film pales in comparison. The writers and director never quite get a grip on their subject matter, including far too many inexplicable events and unidentified characters. This means that audiences unfamiliar with Shakur's story will struggle to engage with people and events that lack context and resonance.
Raised by his activist mother Afeni (The Walking Dead's Danai Gurira) in New York, the gifted Tupac (Demetrius Shipp Jr.) starts studying music, acting and dance at art college with his best friend Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham). Then the family moves across the country to Northern California, where he becomes more politically active and starts rapping. Mistreated by his record company, his hot temper lands him in prison, after which Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana) brings him to Death Row Records. Amid rising fame and fortune, Tupac becomes caught up in an East Coast/West Coast feud with his former friend Biggie Smalls (Jamal Woolard), which takes a fatal turn.
With a story like this, it's odd that the filmmakers opt for such a saintly portrayal of Shakur, completely ignoring his personal life. He seems bizarrely asexual, even when surrounded by near-naked women, and his relationship with fiancee Kidada (Annie Ilonzeh) is non-existent. This is largely because the film's narrative is little more than sequence of moments in Shakur's life jarringly edited together without much connection between them. People wander in and out of these scenes in vast numbers, with some recognisable as famous figures but most just a blur. So the through-line of Shakur's life is a choppy stream of artistry, anger and violence. If the sound mix made it possible to decipher his lyrics, maybe more of this would make sense.
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In 1971, a star was born in the form of Tupac Amaru Shakur; a star who would go on to be one of the most influential faces in the history of hip hop. In 1991, the world exploded in admiration for this pioneering newcomer who brought mastery to the art of rap and appealed to a young generation of hip hop artists especially those who were black, impoverished and affected by gang culture. His themes of racism, police brutality and gritty realities of guns and violence on the street brought a daring truth to the table that few, if any, had tried before. His 1996 album for which this film is named was the most explorative of the latter and his crowning glory, but it came alongside his downfall. After a stretch in prison and a serious conflict with Death Row Records, he would meet his end in a drive-by shooting at the age of just 25.
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