Photo by Matthew Pierson Jr.Fools rush in, and so does British stalkumentarian and pop-culture muckraker Nick Broomfield—this time churning up the murky waters that have submerged the unsolved 1996-97 murders of rap artists Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur.
Following leads furnished by ex-LAPD detective Russell Poole and encouraged in his mission by Biggie's doting mother, former New York City schoolteacher Voletta Wallace, Broomfield starts asking questions. Were Biggie and Tupac set up by rogue cops? Could their deaths have been arranged by rap entrepreneur Suge Knight? Did Knight's Death Row label owe Tupac $10 million, and was Tupac about to jump ship? Why were Tupac and Biggie both under FBI surveillance at the time of their assassinations? And how come none of the police suspects were ever questioned?
According to Broomfield, the theory—most recently advanced in a two-part Los Angeles Times story by Chuck Phillips—that the rappers died as a result of Compton gang warfare is a cover. This is Oliver Stone country, but Broomfield's self-effacing affect is more Woody Allen, his legwork punctuated by droll asides: "I had no idea at this stage how many more meals at Denny's I'd have to eat before I got Russell's statement."
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Broomfield brandishes his trademark microphone boom as he barges down Baltimore's mean streets or into a Harlem housing project, but his strategic bumbling belies an aggressive questioning indicative of his legal background. He modestly characterizes Biggie & Tupacas the tale of two friends who fell out, but this boldly reckless doc is something else again—a first-person whodunit in which the filmmaker casts himself as a seedy gumshoe poking around a hallucinatory world in which poverty, crime and drugs mix with fantastic wealth and grandiose scenarios lifted from The Godfather and Scarface.
As Biggie & Tupac is ultimately an existential quest, so Broomfield's most exciting scoop is largely self-revelation. Somehow, he manages to penetrate the maximum-security joint then holding Suge Knight. Broomfield's longtime camera operator, Joan Churchill, has bailed, and her panicky replacement is flailing at the sky as the intrepid filmmaker explores the prison yard. A warden who might enjoy nothing more than mopping up Broomfield's remains escorts him into Suge's cell block, and there's the thug-master, making a phone call. Biggie & Tupac doesn't close the case, but it does make its point: be careful what you look for; you just might find it.
Biggie & Tupac was written and directed by Nick Broomfield. Now playing at select LA theaters.