Have you ever bought a hardcover nonfiction book only to later encounter a paperback edition with new material that requires shelling out money for the damn book again? That’s roughly the effect of Nick Broomfield’s new documentary Last Man Standing, about former Death Row Records head Suge Knight and theories of his involvement in the killings of Tupac Shakur and Christopher “Biggie” Smalls. As an update to his 2002 effort on the same subject, Biggie and Tupac, this film provides new testimony about Knight and the alleged role of corrupt LAPD cops in Smalls’ murder. But it mostly proves a tired rehashing of familiar material that doesn’t justify its 105-minute running time.
The documentary, whose full title is Last Man Standing: Suge Knight and the Murders of Biggie and Tupac, features the intrepid British documentarian (Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Murderer, Kurt & Courtney) returning to the mean streets of Compton, Los Angeles, this time chaperoned by savvy local resident Pam Brooks (also one of the film’s producers). The impetus for the project was that Knight is now serving a 28-year prison sentence for manslaughter (for a 2015 attack), and people might be willing to talk more freely.
Last Man Standing
More than a little redundant.
That doesn’t always turn out to be true, because Knight apparently still wields plenty of pull even while incarcerated. One of the interview subjects, music producer Tracy Robinson, who worked closely with Tupac, confesses that she’s still afraid to talk about the notoriously vengeful former label owner.
Broomfield, narrating in his dulcet English tones, tediously rehashes the story of Knight’s rise and fall, the East Coast versus West Coast rap label feud, and Tupac’s transformation from idealistic teenager to rap icon and gangsta poseur. The stories have been told countless times since Tupac’s untimely death, and the plethora of fresh interviews with friends, lovers, former gang members and colleagues don’t prove particularly revelatory. We hear from his former girlfriend Desiree Smith that a prison stint made him “hateful and paranoid,” and that he purposefully set out to seduce Biggie’s wife, Faith Evans, merely out of spite.
Working with Knight, Tupac became very close to him, a bond that led him to indulge his worst instincts. Extensive photos and videos display the two men gleefully degrading naked women in debauched fashion, showing Tupac in a far different light from an interview taped when he was just 17 years old in which he thoughtfully talks about racial justice and inequality. A friend says Tupac took his role in the 1992 movie Juice too much to heart and began acting in a more thuggish fashion, and notes that his relationship with Knight only encouraged those tendencies.
“Tupac was already crazy,” a former bodyguard says. “They just turned him up another notch.”
Broomfield here seems intent on restoring the reputation of former LAPD detective Russell Poole, whose accusations about members of the department being complicit in Biggie’s murder were a key element of the earlier film. Much of the interview footage with Poole, who died (“tragically,” according to Broomfield) of natural causes in 2015, is recycled here, along with fresh allegations about the police department and Knight from others claiming to have inside information. But no truly solid evidence is presented, and without any smoking gun the results prove provocative but unsatisfying.
Purely as cinema, Last Man Standing is wanting as well. The filmmaker’s rough-hewn approach results in a tedious assemblage of archival footage and poorly shot talking-head segments, sans any attempts at artful visual presentation or editing. At one point, a little girl interrupts the proceedings and Broomfield greets her warmly. Why the moment, albeit charming, was left in the finished product is anyone’s guess.