You’d be hard-pressed to find 140 consecutive seconds of video under more pressure than these, in the latest trailer for Benny Boom’s All Eyez On Me.
This is probably reflective of the monumental task Boom has set for himself in adapting for the screen the life of one of the zeitgeist’s most enigmatic titans.
Few modern artists have meant as many different things to as many different people as Tupac Shakur. The array of cultural identities he inhabited in only 25 years—from 1971 to his untimely death in 1996—is an achievement unto itself: Tupac the performer, the poet, the hedonist, the revolutionary, the peacemaker, the victim, the thug… The trailer racks up more than 100 cuts as all these iterations jostle through, falling over one another in their urgency to express the nuance and drama of “the man behind the legend.”
Compounding the complexity of the subject, and dialing up the pressure on the film even further, is the competition. This is the third studio biopic of a ’90s hip-hop icon in the last 10 years (though Tupac is, speaking strictly in terms of albums sales, the most iconic yet). George Tillman Jr.’s Notorious B.I.G. biopic Notorious made $44 million at the box office in 2009 and F. Gary Gray’s N.W.A. feature Straight Outta Compton pulled in a formidable $201 million in 2015. This film’s ambition to both capture and outdo the appeal of its predecessors is palpable. Jamal Woolard even reprises his role, from Notorious, as Biggie, and Dominic L. Santana somehow manages to outdo Straight Outta Compton‘s R. Marcos Taylor in the art of menacingly smoking a cigar as Death Row Records mogul Suge Knight.
The point is, with this trailer, the stakes are high. And it’s hard to say which way to bet, as the names behind the camera are relatively unknown. Shakur is played by actor Demetrius Shipp Jr. in his feature debut. Boom is a successful music video and TV director (NCIS: Los Angeles, Empire), but this is only his third feature, and by far his largest to date. Writers Jeremy Haft and Eddie Gonzalez both have writing credits on Empire, and wrote this script with Steven Bagatourian, who co-wrote American Gun, an indie produced by IFC in 2005, but none of the three have ever penned a major studio script.
Based on the trailer, there’s cause for both hope and consternation. Boom clearly knows how to stage a spectacle, and Shakur’s life was, by his own design, a spectacle of grandiose proportions. The film might be in over its head, but it’s going to be one hell of a show. MM
All Eyez On Me opens in theaters June 16, 2017, courtesy of Summit Entertainment.