By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Armed with previously unseen home movies and rarely seen behind-the-scenes footage, and crisscrossing the country from Baltimore to Oakland, Brooklyn to Los Angeles, Broomfield fleshes out interviews with childhood friends, family members (Tupac's mom, Afeni Shakur, who controls his estate along with Death Row Records, is conspicuously absent) and former members of the rappers' inner circles. Former LAPD Detective Russell Poole -- who, next to Miss Wallace, emerges as a true hero of the film -- and former LAPD Officer Kevin Hackie guide the viewer through a Byzantine timeline and collection of data, and this is where Broomfield's shtick as the relentlessly probing, curious but slightly daft white Brit most effectively pays off. With his deadpan delivery of questions and asides, and with the camera and boom mike jutting clumsily into the frame, Broomfield creates a proxy observer for the audience, particularly for mainstream viewers who may know little or nothing of the rappers or the worlds they rapped about.
But the film's platinum moment, when Broomfield finally interviews Suge Knight at Mule Creek Correctional Facilities, is powerful precisely for being such a letdown. Knight's weight has floated throughout the film. His threatening presence looms in interviews with Tupac's stepbrother, Mopreme, who tries to sidestep questions of Suge's influence on the rapper. It's felt in the almost visible trembling of a former bodyguard of Pac's who, though massively built, has retired to a private ranch and turned his life over to Jesus Christ -- and just in case Jesus gets distracted, the man owns a snarling pack of rottweilers. When we finally meet Knight, who's hobbling on a cane, he bobs and weaves on questions about Pac, preferring to offer words of encouragement "to the children." With his eyes darting and his speech rambling, he's hardly the Faustian figure we've been prepped for; even the director's disappointment is palpable.
The "showdown" with Knight, along with sundry incriminating revelations turned up throughout the film, has led to Broomfield being cited for bravery. And to some degree, he deserves it. (Even as he chides his cinematographer for having the jitters in the Mule Creek recreation yard, his own sense of fear and dislocation is palpable.) Still, if the truth be known, Broomfield's whiteness is his bulletproof vest. A few years ago when it was all the rage for disgruntled Negro rappers to assault critics and journalists, it wasn't Caucasian writers who were affected, and it wasn't the offices of Spin, Rolling Stone or Details that got trashed. For all their swagger, menace and bravado, hip-hop's gangstas and thugs are a thoroughly domesticated breed. They know who to fuck with and who to leave alone. And -- as the corpses of Biggie and Tupac verify -- they know which lives are disposable.
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