Sign up for Sight & Sound’s Weekly Film Bulletin and more
News, reviews and archive features every Friday, and information about our latest magazine once a month.
► Last Man Standing: Suge Knight and the Murders of Biggie & Tupac is in cinemas from 2 July.
Nick Broomfield has a reasonably strong track record in making sequels to his blockbuster documentaries. In 1999, Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer looked at the mental state of Aileen Wuornos, the protagonist of his 1992 documentary Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer. Before that, in 1990, Broomfield had returned to Blackburn, setting for his 1976 film about young offenders Juvenile Liaison, to make Juvenile Liaison 2 – this time giving himself a prominent position as interrogator-protagonist, in contrast to the original’s behind-the-camera approach.
He has gone in the opposite direction in Last Man Standing: Suge Knight and the Murders of Biggie & Tupac, where clearly (and thankfully) Broomfield feels he doesn’t need to cover up the lack of interviews with scenes of a bumbling white British director investigating in the crime-ridden African-American streets of South Central LA that padded out the run-time of his Biggie and Tupac (2002).
Biggie and Tupac looked at the murders in the mid-1990s of two former friends, hip-hop superstars Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace – aka Notorious B.I.G. and Biggie Smalls – who became enemies as the rap world became divided into East Coast and West Coast gangs.
Broomfield purported to have uncovered the truth of what happened, focusing on claims made by former police officer Russell Poole that the Los Angeles Police Department was involved in covering up a conspiracy by music mogul Suge Knight to kill Tupac and Biggie. Broomfield’s return to South Central LA is a rebuke to the many detractors who criticised what they perceived as flimsy reporting in Biggie and Tupac. A New York Times article by John Leland in October 2002 criticised the film for gathering “circumstantial evidence and speculation to argue that Mr Knight ordered both killings”.
Last Man Standing starts with footage from 4 October 2018 of the sentencing of Suge Knight for the manslaughter of music executive Terry Carter. Broomfield’s voiceover calls the sentencing “the end of his power”. And once Knight went behind bars, Broomfield says, people have been willing to talk more freely about Knight being the “shadow behind Biggie and Tupac’s murders”. This has enabled him to gather testimony unavailable before, which he believes further backs up the claims he made in 2002. While there is no slam-dunk evidence connecting Knight to the murders of Tupac and Biggie, there is testimony further indicating the complicity of the LAPD with Knight.
The film isn’t particularly revelatory about the rappers’ deaths and it lacks a defining moment like the interview with Knight that was the centrepiece of the first film. However, the strength of this doc lies elsewhere, in its more robust and authoritative storytelling style and professional sheen that make it more difficult to call it circumstantial and speculative.
But as a result, it’s also less entertaining. The interviews, archive footage and still photographs focus on those impacted by the actions of the Death Row records CEO. The misogyny and violence are particularly disturbing, and none of the players, including the rappers and rival record companies, come out well in this tale of power corrupting.
“Police corruption is very present in LA”: Nick Broomfield on Last Man Standing
By James Mottram
“It was fairly anarchic…” Nick Broomfield recalls Greek cinema under the stars with all-natural extras
By Nick Broomfield
Sight and Sound September 2022
In this issue: Quentin Tarantino on tape, the best film podcasts, Baz Luhrmann on Elvis, Warren Ellis on composing for film and Panah Panahi on Hit the Road. Plus: Black Film Bulletin, James Caan, Georges Méliès and more.Find out more and get a copy