• Tupac Assassination: Battle For Compton

    Released By: MVD Visual
    Released On: March 10, 2017.
    Director: Richard Bond
    Cast: Tupac Shakur, Gloria Cox, Leila Steinberg, Snoop Dogg
    Year: 2017
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    The Film:

    I can't say that I'd heard of Richard "RJ" Bond before I sat down to check out Tupac Assassination: Battle For Compton, but if Google is any indication, this is a man who has dedicated a whole lot of time to the murder of Tupac Shakur. Not one, not two, but THREE films in 2009 alone attempted to expose the conspiracies, corruption, and coverups surrounding the rapper's 1996 shooting, details that Bond further outlined in his co-written book, Tupac 187: The Red Knight. Apparently, Bond hasn't finished exploring this topic just yet, as 2017 finds him helming another expose on the subject; Tupac Assassination: Battle For Compton. And though there will be naysayers who shake their heads at what may very well be Bond's silly overkill, the not-quite-normal deaths of key players does make for a compelling argument.

    Battle For Compton starts off with some interviews that lend credibility to the film, like Tupac's outspoken Aunt, Gloria Cox, and his former manager, Leila Steinberg. Combined with older interview (deposition) footage of Shakur himself, Bond spends a short time establishing what new viewers may not be aware of; not only of Tupac's impact as a powerful writer and performer, but also as a down-to-earth, very humane individual with ideals that ran contradictory to the gang persona presented in the media. Obviously, a few grains of salt must be taken when considering Pac's "Thug Life" tattoos and business associates, but the film thankfully doesn't spend too much time insulting the intelligence of viewers, rather than offering a different point of view.

    Where the film begins to ramp up and get interesting...minus a throwaway scene with a former Mexican Federale that goes on too long...is when Bond starts digging into the drug trade coming up from Mexico, and interviews the law enforcement officials who got caught up in skimming cash from massive seizures and arrests. Detailing Operation Big Spender, in which it was revealed that dirty cops had taken over 60 million dollars from these raids, Bond showcases the corruption inherent when such sizeable amounts of cash are present, and further points out that this leads to more corruption once it's revealed that police can be bought. With that point made, the next step is to tie that abuse of authority into the subject matter of the film, and Bond brings it all back to Los Angeles, and specifically the City of Compton, effortlessly. Former Compton Mayor Omar Bradley makes for a compelling witness to events as he rides around the city providing soundbites, and we get a brief history of Compton; from the Watts Riots and White Flight, and the introduction of crack cocaine to a city with no other sustainable economy. "Freeway" Ricky Ross, the drug dealer who has been seen in other corruption documentaries is as intriguing a speaker as Bradley, and the film takes us through a comprehensive look at how far up criminal enterprise can go. City councillors receiving outrageous salaries for minimal work, politicians borrowing millions of dollars from city coffers with no need to pay it back, gifts of land for no purchase cost; rot that reaches out to the city school system and then the City of Compton police force, who are running as a gang of drug traffickers and weapons salesmen...turning over goods from the evidence locker to make money.

    With this history lesson taken care of, Battle For Compton gets back to its star subject matter, mapping out the connections between the City of Compton police to employees of Death Row Records, a hip-hop label with a number of acts including Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, and rising star Tupac Shakur. Interviews with the major players, including Suge Knight, Snoop, and Pac's former bodyguards touch on Death Row's money laundering, the East Coast/West Coast feud, and the unlikely puppet masters pulling the strings behind the scenes. Conspiracy theories begin to fly fast and furious, here, as talk of the altercation that occurred in the MGM Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas shortly before Pac's murder is dissected, and numerous theories are put forth as to who wanted Shakur dead and who stood to profit. Was it Death Row brass, frightened that their chief moneymaking artist was leaving the business for an acting career? Why were Pac's bodyguards instructed to leave their firearms back in their hotel rooms? Was it a feud with the East Coast that also allegedly took the life of rapper Biggie Smalls? Or was it a gang hit by Crips as alleged by the LAPD, despite a number of suspicious pieces of "evidence" that still don't add up? With over 20 years having passed since Tupac's death, it's unlikely that all of the facts will ever be known.

    Having missed out on Bond's other three films on the subject, I can't comment how this stacks up to them, or if this is a case of redundant information with a few new facts (such as the death of two of Pac's bodyguards). On its own, Battle For Compton is at its most persuasive when Bond is sticking to the facts, specifically during the segment on political and police corruption in Compton. As intriguing as the conspiracies around the murder can be, the last act of this very long film...almost 140 minutes...become muddied and bogged down with multiple possibilities as Bond himself becomes the predominant talking head, and the explanations get to be tiresome. Some editing would have tightened this right up, and joined the last portion of the film, involving alleged payoffs to the Las Vegas PD by the LAPD, more cohesively; and losing that previously mentioned throwaway interview and some of the repeated highlighted documents on animated PowerPoint-looking slide backgrounds would have brought this down a little closer to a tolerable running time. Still, there's a lot of great stuff to be found in Battle For Compton, which, even when it's at it's most trashy/tabloid moments, manages to be entertaining and thought-provoking.


    MVD Visual brings Tupac Assassination: Battle For Compton to Blu-ray in an AVC-encoded 1.78:1 transfer that is definitely a mixed bag. To be fair to the producers, a warning at the beginning of the film explains the multitude of sources brought together for this presentation, so it's not really a surprise to see some YouTube-quality bits in here. However, stretching of aspect ratios is never a good thing, and even some of the talking head shots that are more recent suffer from visual artifacting, compression, and some mild audio synch problems. Still, the film is by no means unwatchable; it's just not the prettiest thing you've ever seen.

    Audio is handled by an English LPCM 2.0 track, and it's perfectly serviceable for the most part; though, like the video, the mix of sources does introduce some issues. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles offered for the feature, so incoherent audio will remain incoherent. Again, like the video, this is not a deal-breaker, but it's somewhat below acceptable quality in certain spots throughout the film.

    There are no extras included on this disc.

    The Final Word:

    The unsolved murder of Tupac Shakur continues to be an enthralling topic for many, more than two decades later. Tupac Assassination: Battle For Compton provides an engaging evaluation of the subject matter, while also effectively delving into related material, providing a pleasurable, if not slightly overlong, viewing experience.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!