When he was shot to death in Las Vegas in 1996, Tupac Shakur was one of the most divisive figures in hip-hop. Tupac: Resurrection gives Tupac the chance to explain his life in his own words. Produced with the help of his mother, Afeni Shakur, the movie doesn't shy away from the more controversial aspects of his career. With plenty of concert footage and over 70 songs on the soundtrack, including four new Tupac pieces, the film will be a must-see for his fans. But the filmmakers' relatively even-handed approach to a troubled life will not be enough to win over many new converts.
Tupac was an expertly ingratiating performer, and his voice-over--pieced together from a voluminous archive of interviews--is consistently engaging, even when he is distorting the facts. He boasts of his mother's work in the Black Panthers and his family's hard life in New York, Oakland and Marin City. But Tupac also attended an arts high school in Baltimore, and cites some jaw-dropping influences like Kate Bush and Don McLean's 'Vincent.'
Tupac's first big break came when he joined Digital Underground. His solo debut, '2pacalypse Now,' went gold, and led to film roles in movies like Juice and Poetic Justice. Subsequent albums sold even better, with hit singles like 'Dear Mama' and 'California Love.' But the second half of the film shows a celebrity spiraling wildly out of control, cut off by his own choice from the people who might have helped him. Tupac angered many in the black community by criss-crossing the country to promote what he called 'thug life.' His troubles with the law led to jail sentences, including one for sexual assault. During that trial, he was shot five times and left for dead outside a New York City recording studio. On his release, he signed with Death Row Records, headed by the enigmatic Suge Knight, and helped instigate a feud between East and West Coast rappers. Knight was in the car with Tupac the night he was shot to death after attending a Mike Tyson heavyweight bout.
Tupac's early music, with its precise beats and careful imagery, is still powerful today. The later, posthumously released songs can feel bombastic, full of angry chatter and overblown musical back-ups. In the film, it's the earlier Tupac who is more appealing as well. Canny, tough, an instinctual survivor, he's an undeniable talent who could have turned himself into anything. Watching him squander his chances becomes increasingly unpleasant. But Tupac has sold many more records after his death than when he was alive. Ultimately forsaking clarity and insight, Tupac: Resurrection is geared firmly towards that audience.