Retro Review: Shaft

Written: June 19, 2000

The greatest blaxpolitation hero returns with a new face and that same old attitude and style for a whole new generation.

The title of the film “Shaft” refers to the title character John Shaft (now played by Samuel L Jackson) who in the early seventies captivated audiences with his cool attitude, no nonsense style and brutal approach to law enforcement. In this latest film, Shaft tries to bring down a white supremacist (Christian Bale) who has brutally clubbed a black guy to death.

The key to the case lies with a cocktail waitress (Toni Collette) who witnessed the murder. If Shaft can track her down and keep her alive long enough he may finally bring the bad guy down. The only thing standing is his way is a vindictive drug dealer (Jeffrey Wright) hired by the supremacist to kill the witness.

All the brilliance of the original “Shaft” is here except its been streamlined and evolved into a great looking action film. The film has great performances from Samuel L Jackson, Jeffrey Wright and Christian Bale.

Jackson is perfectly cast as the attitude filled Shaft. One small problem I had with his casting was some of his scenes reminded me of the character he played in “Pulp Fiction”.

Bale is amazing as the brutal bad guy who finds there are worse evils than he can deliver. This is Bale’s second key role as a devilish villain in a row. I think he has the potential to travel the route James Woods has taken with his career. Boy, has he changed since “Newsies”. Anyone remember that film?

Finally I was really impressed with relative new-comer Jeffrey Wright who plays the perfect druglord scumbag. He made his motion picture debut 10 years ago with “Presumed Innocent” but has since made a name for himself on Broadway where he was awarded a Tony award in 1994 for the 7 hour play, “Angels in America – Perestroika” . Wright was so believable that I had to see him on the Tonight Show before I could get that character out of my head.

The way the film is put together and synchronized is really nice to see. This is the pure atmosphere that makes us fondly remember those cult films of seventies. I have always loved the Isaac Hayes “Shaft” theme song. Another atmospheric marvel within Shaft is that this film pays homage to genre by embracing what it was instead of making fun of it. Another breath of fresh air had to be there was no cliched woman love interest for the hero. Blaxpolitation is finally becoming cool.

I really only had a couple problems with Shaft. One being the excessive amount of bad language but that is just a warning to the people who may be sensitive to that nature. Another was I felt was the miss use of the female leads. Vanessa Williams and even Collette seemed to be dumbed down and fade into the background. I feel sorry for them and wished they were given a little more depth. Pose this question: What would happen if Shaft met a 90’s woman? I welcome the return to the 70s Shaft brings to me. I love his no holds barred approach. Wonder if we’ll see a sequel?

(4 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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