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(2003) (Tupac Shakur) (R)

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Documentary: A look at the rise to fame of rap star Tupac Shakur, his repeated run-ins with the law, and his murder, all narrated by the rapper himself.
Culled from interviews with the late rapper Tupac Shakur, director Lauren Lazin takes the rapper's voice and has him narrate a look back at his promising yet troubled rise to fame, his repeated run-ins with the law, and finally his murder.
OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
It's not unusual for people to talk about themselves at various points in their lives, particularly if they possess big egos or the need to promote and/or draw attention to themselves. It's a little disconcerting, however, for them to do so from beyond the grave. No, I'm not referring to some egocentric ghost who won't let death deter his self-aggrandizement.

Instead, I'm talking about the interesting, well-made and yes, somewhat creepy documentary, "Tupac Resurrection." Highly reminiscent of the similarly filmed "The Kid Stays in the Picture (narrated by the still alive Robert Evans), the film takes a look at the life and career of rapper Tupac Shakur.

A controversial figure to say the least, the artist was gunned down on the night of September 13, 1996 and the identity of his gunman or men remains a mystery to this day, although there are plenty of suspects.

First time feature director Lauren Lazin, along with editor Richard Calderon ("Backstage," "The Awful Truth") and cinematographer Jon Else ("The Day After Trinity: Oppenheimer & the Atomic Bomb") take a look at that fateful day and the events leading up to it in this engaging, disturbing and surprisingly introspective documentary.

I say surprising because the film is narrated by Shakur himself and the fact that his words -- culled from previous interviews and such -- seem like a self-posthumous view of his life.

I've always wondered how an artist could release so many albums after his death and this "new" look back narration will likely only add to the conspiracy theory that he faked his death (like Elvis and Jim Morrison).

While the film isn't as entertaining as "The Kid Stays in the Picture," Lazin has copied some of the visual presentation effects (images of figures "floating" over background stills, etc.) and I clearly learned more about the artist than I had previously known. For instance, who would have imagined that this provocative rapper attended the Baltimore School of Arts where he studied and became immersed in the classics?

While the filmmakers' involvement with Shakur's former Blank Panther mother, Afeni Shakur, had me worried about the film glamorizing the artist and overlooking his faults and documented run-ins with the law, the effort is a fairly balanced offering.

That said, and notwithstanding his "artistry" or explanations about such legal indiscretions and worse, the film did not change my view that Shakur was essentially a thug in the traditional sense of the word (rather than the "underdog" definition he concocted to try to brush off mounting criticism of his life and work).

Despite a "woe is me" recounting of his past (including growing up poor and without a true father or even father figure), I never felt sorry for how his life turned out or ultimately ended.

That's to Lazin's credit, as any other outcome would have obviously proven a bias and/or manipulation on the part of the filmmaker. All of that said, the film is undeniably captivating in a sort of train wreck fashion. Although one knows when and where the crash occurs, it's captivating watching the jumping of the tracks and eventual, entire derailment of his life.

And what makes it all the more fascinating and a bit disturbing is that there we sit, listening to the artist talking about his life, essentially from beyond the grave.

In his written words and even some interview footage we see, Shakur didn't have a death wish, but obviously believed he was going to bring down the life expectancy average for those in his age bracket. Accordingly, he not only recorded a plethora of songs (the ones that keep getting released years after his death), but also his views and feelings toward his demise that he obviously knew was coming.

All of which makes the film a powerful and well-made, if not particularly enjoyable or entertaining experience. Nevertheless, fans of the late artist will probably eat up what's offered (that includes previously unseen footage and such narration), while non-fans will learn more about what made the talented but controversial rapper tick. "Tupac Resurrection" rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed October 28, 2003 / Posted November 14, 2003

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