Shaft


Directed by: John Singleton
Written by:Richard Price, John Singleton, Shane Salerno
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Vanessa L. Williams, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Bale, Dan Hedaya, Toni Collette
Released: October 26, 2000
Grade: A-

John Shaft (Jackson) is the gun detective of the New York Police Department.   He’s the best there is but takes plenty of flack from the “whiteboys” and John’s worked damn hard to get where he is.  On his latest case, he’s taken to a bar where a young African-American has been bludgeoned to death in what appears to be racially motivated attack.  The top suspect is the son of wealthy real estate tycoon Walter Wade (Bale) but there’s little to hold him on and the only witness, Diane Palmieri (Collette), is keeping tight lipped.

When Wade is released on bail and flees the country, Shaft is disgusted but knows that one day he’ll get his man.  That date comes two years later when tipped off to his arrival back into the U.S. but  after arresting him again, the judge grants bail.  Fed up with the legal system, Shaft turns in his badge, says “fuck the job” and decides to take justice into his own hands.  His primary goal is to track down Diane and get her to testify before Wade and his hitmen get there first.

The original Shaft was released in 1971 and starred Richard Roundtree, who makes a cameo in this version as Shaft’s uncle.  Having never seen the original I cannot compare but a striking feature of the 2000 version is just how many aspects reminded me of the 1970s.  Whilst it’s a modern day setting (as you can tell with references to sports stars Tiger Woods and Derek Jeter), the police station, neighbourhood and other settings all have a 70s feel as does the snazzy film score from David Arnold.

John Singleton does a great job behind the camera given his passion for the subject material.  Whilst at times a blow ‘em up action fest, the film goes much deeper with its look at discrimination of the African-American community.  Singleton’s previous films include Boyz In The Hood, Poetic Justice and Higher Learning and given his own African-American heritage, you can sure tell he knows what he’s talking about. 

A great example of this comes from the relationship between Shaft and the police chief (played by Daniel von Bargen).  I bagged The Hurricane earlier this year complaining that the detective who put Rubin Carter in jail overplayed his racial intent.  In Shaft, both men are hospitable to each other but there is an underlying subtext in their conversations that shows the chief thinks less of Shaft because of his colour.  This provides more realism and interest by not painting the boundaries so clearly. 

Christian Bale plays the villain well and I still hope he’s in line for an Oscar nomination next February for American Psycho.  The villain is always the toughest character to play and Bale gives the role depth rather than turning into a James Bond-like super villain who makes all the right moves until the very end.  He’s also assembling some great wardrobes if you check out his costumes in both this and Psycho.

One can’t overlook Samuel L. Jackson who shows he’s always picking the right roles.  Since his Oscar nominated turn in Pulp Fiction six years ago, he’s built a stunning resume including roles in A Time To Kill, Jackie Brown, The Negotiator, Rules Of Engagement and The Phantom Menace.  This is one of his best performances and few can imagine anyone else filling Shaft’s shoes.  You can also tell just how much he enjoyed making this movie.

Don't be confused in thinking Shaft is a serious drama dealing with racist segregation.  It’s loads of fun mixed with slick lines and a surprising ending.  Be careful whom you do see it with as I haven’t seen more killings nor mentions of the word “fuck” in a single film this year.  Still, Shaft is still the man.