Though he was killed at only twenty-five, on the evidence of this biopic rapper/actor Tupac Shakur talked a great deal about his life on tape and film. His own words make up the entire script of this picture, which as a result has an almost autobiographical cast. “Tupac: Resurrection,” one of whose executive producers is the performer’s mother, takes–as the subtitle suggests–a rather reverential tone; but even if the warts in the portrait are reduced to mere blemishes, it provides as full a picture of a gifted artist as can be expected of an authorized biography.
The picture is, in many ways, fairly conventional in structure and style. It’s basically a chronological account of Tupac’s life, put into some degree of context by reference to wider cultural and political movements (the beginning has a good deal of data on the black power movement of the early 1970s, in which his family was involved). But while the implication is that his later message sprang from that revolutionary atmosphere, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the account is the revelation that he spent part of his teen years in the resolutely middlebrow environment of the Baltimore School for the Arts, where he studied not only theater but ballet. The brief glimpses of the well-spoken, enthusiastic young man in this atmosphere indicates that, despite the fact that he’d come from a home where the parental influence was sometimes absent or ineffectual and that he briefly dropped out of school and engaged in some minor street dealing, the thug persona he later adopted was as much a calculated career move as a natural progression from his own experience.
The later stages of the rapper’s life are then approached almost in the form of hagiography. There’s more than a hint of the miraculous in his speedy ascent from featured status to rapper stardom, and in the enthusiastic response to his movie roles. (There’s a certain weird symmetry to watching the late rapper praised by the late critic Gene Siskel.) Touched upon, but not strongly emphasized, are the criticisms that were leveled against the singer-star for the gangsta trappings of his lyrics and lifestyle; and when the narrative reaches his public disputes with the likes of Spike Lee and the Hughes brothers and his legal troubles–in particular the notorious rape trail and subsequent imprisonment–the episodes are characterized as a kind of artistic crucible that honed his talent. (This section of the film also has its humorous side, when Tupac confesses that one of the people whose support meant most to him during his jail time was Tony Danza!)
The final segment of the picture covers Tupac’s return to form after his release from prison, his alliance with Death Row Records and Suge Knight, his part in the “East Coast”-“West Coast” rap war, and his murder. It all ends in a sort of apotheosis, with what appears to be a disembodied Tupac floating above the clouds in peace.
If this finale is considerably over-the-top, it doesn’t negate the strengths of “Resurrection.” The picture does offer fans access to a wealth of material–pictures and narrative both–that’s rare and often revealing. And it serves to remind us of Tupac’s unquestionable charisma, and the fact that as prodigious as his gifts might have been in the rap world, it’s possible that his real future lay in acting–he really possessed a powerful natural screen presence. If this isn’t the last word on its subject, it is–like much of Tupac’s own work–one that his many devotees will find well worth hearing, and non-fans should find interesting, too.