Biggie and Tupac
review by Carrie Gorringe, 21 June 2002

28th Seattle International Film Festival

Rapper Tupac Shakur was gunned down on September 7, 1996 in Las Vegas. Rapper Biggie (The Notorious B.I.G.) Smalls suffered the same fate on March 9, 1997 in Los Angeles. Once the closest of friends, Biggie and Tupac died as bitter enemies. In his latest film, Biggie and Tupac, documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield (Kurt and Courtney, Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam) suggests that these murders are, despite all appearances, related incidents. He, along with many of his interviewees, barely stop short at proclaiming Marion (Suge) Knight to be the chief mastermind behind both the murders and the feud between Biggie and Tupac. It seems that Knight, the former head of the rap label Death Row records, had the typical characteristics for committing the murders: motive and opportunity. The movie lines up a laundry list of potential motives, chief among them the large sum of money ($10 million) he owed Tupac at the time when Tupac was planning -- some might have said threatening -- to leave Death Row because of the violence surrounding the label and his minimal financial compensation for a punishing workload (During one eleven-month period, Tupac recorded sixty-seven songs). Knight had also operated under a divide-and-conquer strategy, attempting to create an "East Coast versus West Coast" rivalry, dismissing East Coast rap labels as inauthentic. Tupac's impending departure for an East Coast label would have threatened that, along with Tupac's intention of taking his entire back catalog with him. Fortunately, as the film suggests, Knight had one last trump card to play: some of L.A.'s finest also worked part-time as part of Death Row's security detail, providing protection for its artists. Was it coincidence, the film asks, that an investigation into both killings went nowhere under this insidious set of circumstances?

This being a Nick Broomfield film, it's not surprising that the film veers into the realm of tantalizing implications. Operating as a cross between Albert Sayles and Oliver Stone (much like Michael Moore), Bloomfield and his films play at the fringes of treating its participants with neutrality, but the outcome -- especially in this case -- tends to rest on an uneasy line between libel and interpretation (and perhaps very uneasily at that, since Courtney Love sought an injunction against the release of Kurt and Courtney). The film's structure relies very heavily upon Biggie Small's friends and family, since Tupac's mother -- the executor of his estate and the rights holder to all of her son's music -- refused to cooperate with Broomfield. The interpretation of the events behind this case may be tempting to those with a love for the paranoiac -- although Broomfield, to his credit, doesn't shy away from presenting Knight's commanding, almost sinister, presence -- but the speculations aren't sufficient to present a truly persuasive viewpoint.  


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Directed by:
Nick Broomfield

Starring:
The Notorious B.I.G.
Marion 'Suge' Knight
Tupac Shakur

Rated:
NR - Not Rated.
This film has not yet
been rated.

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