Filmmaker Lauren Lazin uses the rapper's interviews, lyrics and public appearances to form an in-his-own-words biopic comparable to Imagine: John Lennon. When the film's title appears over heavenly clouds, it's like a scene from a Sunday school movie, but otherwise Tupac: Resurrection offers a complex treatment of Shakur's short, stormy life.
At an early age Shakur emerges as a voluble, charismatic performer, and he describes how his impoverished upbringing nourished his angry, inflammatory "gangsta rap" and "Thug Life" credo. As the film recounts Shakur's rise in the recording and movie industries, it could be a video press kit stuck on fast-forward. Shakur's non-stop commentary accompanies rapidly edited scenes from home movies, MTV, candid snap shots and tight close-ups of his hand-written notebooks.
It's a dizzying, exhausting technique, but Shakur consistently proves an ingratiating interview subject and even shares some choice gossip, like how Janet Jackson (or her "people") apparently wanted him to take an AIDS test before their sex scene in Poetic Justice.
Violence and legal troubles undermine Shakur's success. He serves jail time for assaulting the filmmakers Albert and Allen Hughes and later for sexual assault, and in 1994 he survives five bullet wounds. (Shakur's arrest for shooting two off-duty Atlanta police officers is barely mentioned.) At times the film suffers from its subjective point of view: Shakur's various accounts of the sex abuse incident, like his attempts to link Sean "Puffy" Combs and Biggie Smalls to his shooting, are vague and self-contradictory. Short snippets from news broadcasts don't always clear things up.
By the film's end, its jittery cinematic technique becomes an asset, turning Tupac: Resurrection into a kind of fever dream of American celebrity gone awry. Before our eyes, Shakur transforms into a doomed figure worthy of one of his own recordings.