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Tupac: Resurrection

(2003) *** R
110 min. Paramount. Director: Lauren Lazin. Cast: Tupac Shakur.

Tupac: Resurrection makes for a solid documentary about an enduring and controversial artist. Though insular and limited like its stylistic forebear The Kid Stays in the Picture (about Hollywood producer Robert Evans), Lauren Lazin's documentary delivers on its novel promise: to tell the story of Tupac Shakur--rapper, poet, actor, and human being--in his own words.

Using archival interviews to stitch together a voice-over narrative for a visual tour of Tupac's life and career, Lazin reminds us of Tupac's talent, appeal, and righteous indignation, as well as his boorishness, poor business sense, and unending capacity to court trouble. In this sense, the film is even-handed, though one might see the film is self-serving on the part of executive producer Afeni Shakur (Tupac's mother), who appears frequently and lovingly in her son's account. She, too, takes her lumps, as Tupac recalls her drug addiction (and her membership in the controversial Black Panthers).

Because of the limitations of Tupac's comments, the film makes some confusing geographic and chronological leaps, and Lazin chooses not to focus on Shakur's art so much as his mythology. Videos and concert clips are kept to a minimum, and Shakur's big break into show business remains muddled. As such, Tupac: Resurrection works primarily as a trip down memory lane for fans, some of whom may be quite surprised to hear Tupac speak of Diff'rent Strokes as an inspiration or see his teenage stabs at drama and even ballet. His omnipresent "Thug Life" philosophy was easily misinterpreted--which shows its inherent flaw--but Tupac's plain statement that he "didn't create 'Thug Life'; I just diagnosed it" hits home. This was a poorly-equipped man inundated by several unjust systems (primarily the legal system and the music business); partly in frustration and partly due to his own personal weaknesses, Tupac sometimes became the man the world insisted that he was.

Most of the film, effectively, taps into the more operatic aspects of Tupac's life--his love of (many) women, his run-ins with the police, the sexual-assault case which landed him in prison, and the East Coast-West Coast rivalry which played some part in his eventual execution (at the age of 25) at a Las Vegas intersection. An outside authorial voice and a selection of other talking heads would go a long way toward making this a great documentary instead of a good one, but the immersion into Shakur's own mindset pays dividends, even when he lets his self-described "big mouth" dig himself into a hole. This "story about ambition, violence, redemption, and love"--told as an illustrated audiobook--lays out Tupac's contradictory character and mostly invites the audience to draw its own conclusions. Then again, the bird's eye view photography which opens and closes the film suggests that a heavenly Tupac approves.

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