Rap legend Tupac Shakur was a ball of confusion, and in a new, revealing film that focuses on his life, he just about acknowledges it.
"Tupac: Resurrection" is a first-person narrative, in which the slain recording artist discusses his childhood, career and views of the legal and social systems. The original intent of Shakur's revealing, deeply personal account remains unclear. But through a combination of voice-overs and on-camera interviews, he paints a portrait of his accomplishments and missteps that borders on the eerie. Some words he speaks in the final minutes of the movie are even recontextualized as a comment on his ultimate fate in September 1996: "Who shot me? I don't know."
The artist has an incredible presence on screen. He's articulate, even elegant in an almost-shy and reluctant manner. Shakur's charisma and energy can be felt far more through his bright, toothy smile than through any amount of posturing or the pistol-packing intimidation he portrays on posters and CD covers.
Yet the film -- created in collaboration with the rapper's mother, Afeni Shakur -- cultivates an intimacy with its subject that's problematic. "Tupac: Resurrection" suffers from its lack of other perspectives, like that of the sister to whom he affectionately refers. And it seems that Shakur, for all his introspection, never quite reached the point of asking himself life's most difficult questions.
You'll cringe when you hear him call out Arsenio Hall, Spike Lee, Janet Jackson and other entertainers as race traitors -- particularly as Shakur alternates between his roles as a thought-provoking, sensitive community leader and an angry, ill-raised villain who spits resentfully at television cameras while wearing a Detroit Red Wings jersey.
At one hour and 45 minutes, Tupac: Resurrection feels longer. Shakur's views of poverty and its debilitating effects become a redundant theme early on, and the chronology of events is at times confusing. In addition, the movie blurs the lines of his transition from the East Coast to the West, and fails to in any way address the subsequent controversy involving his career with California's Death Row record label, which he reportedly intended to abandon. The matter is left nebulous, especially as Shakur is heard defending the label's CEO, Marion "Suge" Knight -- who was widely suspected of being involved with Shakur's murder -- against accusations of criminal activity.
Discussing his destiny, Shakur won't go so far as to claim that he'll change the world through his music. Yet he's almost as bold: "I will spark the brain that will change the world," he says. For the sake of his fans and their children, let's hope the change is for the better.