The protagonist of Jim Thompson's Pop. 1280 is a Southern sheriff whose guileless, dopey façade hides a sharp, sociopathic mind that views human beings as pawns to be manipulated to his advantage. British documentarian Nick Broomfield is a little like Thompson's antihero. In his films, the director adopts the persona of a bumbling rube, then enters a tabloid-ready situation where he'd stand out like a sore thumb even if he didn't carry around a bulky microphone and wear headphones. The director's feigned ineptitude generally gets his morality-impaired interview subjects to lower their guard and behave even more abominably than usual, at which point Broomfield goes in for the kill, asking pointed, incisive questions or presenting a damning piece of evidence. Biggie And Tupac finds him investigating the unsolved murders of friends-turned-enemies Tupac Shakur (or "Two-Pack, as Broomfield inexplicably pronounces it) and The Notorious B.I.G. Broomfield draws heavily on the work of journalist Randall Sullivan, whose book LAbyrinth made a convincing case implicating Death Row Records head Marion "Suge" Knight in both murders. Sullivan's book prominently featured Russell Poole, an almost comically wholesome detective as its hero, and Poole pops up throughout Biggie And Tupac, where his blandness takes on an almost surreal edge. As usual, though, Broomfield is far more interested in villains than heroes, and he finds plenty in Death Row, which was run like a gang and employed a good deal of flamboyantly corrupt police officers. Broomfield arrives at nearly all the same conclusions as Sullivan, albeit with little of the journalist's rigor or strenuous documentation. The film's centerpiece is his jail-yard interview with Knight, in which Knight segues clumsily from delivering a "positive" message to the kids to fingering Snoop Dogg as a police informant. Like much of the rest of Biggie And Tupac, that rant has little to do with the actual murders of either rapper, but is queasily compelling nonetheless. Broomfield's documentaries tend to be an unwieldy, unequal mixture of investigative journalism and awkward comedy, and as reportage, Biggie And Tupac is haphazard, sordid, and full of dead ends and missed opportunities. As comedy and human drama, however, it's a revelation.
More from The A.V. Club