Biggie & Tupac (15)
DOCUMENTARIES, even those digging beneath the skins of the stars, rarely come more compelling than this insightful and poignant examination of the short lives and violent deaths of American ‘gangsta’ rappers Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls in 1997.
Both men met their ends at the hands of gunmen in drive-by shootings. Shakur was hit four times in a shooting in Las Vegas in September 1996 and died from his injuries in hospital six days later. Smalls, real name Christopher Wallace (but best known as The Notorious B.I.G.) was attacked six months later in March 1997.
In the years since no one has been convicted of either murder. For the LAPD, the cases are closed – apparently victims of the code of silence that exists within the rap community.
Yet British filmmaker Nick Broomfield, the man who hit the big time with his controversial expose of the lives of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain and wife Courtney Love in Kurt and Courtney, has unearthed what he believes is the answer to both killings, starting with a hacked-off Los Angeles detective who resigned from the force after he believes, getting too close to the truth.
What emerges is a tangled and highly dangerous web of deceit, corruption and conspiracy to rival the slaying of John F. Kennedy that allegedly involves bent policemen, record bosses, and the FBI.
Broomfield doesn’t pull any punches in his quest and, while the camera occasionally lingers rather too long on him rather than the targets of his interviews, this is still riveting stuff.
Dragging a microphone and a hapless cameraman through the mean streets of LA Broomfield never shies away from asking the most awkward questions. Often he turns up unannounced, fronting up a succession of hostile witnesses and revealing the police’s case to be flawed and leaking.
One of the most damning revelations is that, in the light of the Rodney King and O.J. Simpson scandals, the Los Angeles Police Department is in fact even more racist than it was before.
Additionally the attempts by its latest chief, himself an African American, to recruit new officers has led to a relaxation on background checks resulting in a number of ‘undesirables’ joining the ranks.
As for Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, while they are never far from our sight it rapidly becomes clear that this film is about far more than just two friends who became rivals.
What Biggie & Tupac shows is that both stars were set up to take a fall – with one providing a reason for the other’s death. In the long run the answer to their murders comes down to good ol’ US greenbacks, and the men who pulled the triggers of the weapons that killed them were hired by a cabal of interested individuals which, claims Broomfield, was led by Tupac’s Death Row Records boss Suge Knight.
Utterly gripping, mind-blowing in its allegations and, in places, terribly sad, Biggie & Tupac deserves to be up there with the Sex Pistols exploration The Filth and the Fury in the pantheon of great rock documentaries.