Review by Michael Jacobson
L. Jackson, Vanessa Williams, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Bale, Busta Rhymes, Dan
Hedaya, Toni Collette, Richard Roundtree
Director: John Singleton
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Features: See Review
Length: 99 Minutes
Release Date: December 12, 2000
Shaft is still the man…as cutting-edge sharp, fun,
and explosive as ever.
When the original came out in the 1970’s, it introduced a
new kind of hero to the big screen: someone
who walked as tall as John Wayne, as cool as Clint Eastwood, as sexual as James
Bond…but a man of African American persuasion.
Richard Roundtree created in Shaft a hero for the people, particularly
those who often failed to see representation on film from mainstream Hollywood.
But the Shaft phenomenon would grow beyond being embraced by only
one segment of the community. Action
fans from all backgrounds took to the hip, cool cop who would risk his neck for
his brother man.
I’m glad to see him back in action for 2000:
Shaft has plenty of life left in him.
For starters, who could have better played the new Shaft
than Samuel L. Jackson? The man’s
the modern epitome of coolness. He
plays not the original Shaft, but his nephew, with Richard Roundtree reprising
his role as the original man in a few good scenes.
The new Shaft is a tall walking, tough talking New York cop, whose
frustration with the system is about to make him bust loose in new and dangerous
At the start of the picture, he shows up to investigate a
brutal and possibly race-motivated murder:
a young black man who had his head bashed in by a steel pole.
There is an obvious suspect: an
icy cool rich boy, Walter Wade (Bale) with blood on his hands.
Literally. He has the
driver’s license of a young waitress, Diane (Collette) who works at the club
outside of which the event took place. Did
she see the murder? Is he
threatening her? But the case never
comes to fruition. After posting
bail, Wade skips the country.
Two years later, he comes back, and Shaft nabs him a second
time. But when the idiot judge
allows bail a second time, Shaft throws his badge away in disgust, vowing the
smug racist killer won’t get away from him again.
This sets the whole plot in motion, which becomes rather
involved. Diane, the key witness,
has all but disappeared. Wade ends
up partnering with another of Shaft’s enemies, Peoples (Wright), a drug dealer
and gang leader with all kinds of connections.
Wade needs the girl found and disposed of. Wright needs connections to some high-class customers.
Both want Shaft out of the way. But
Shaft is the master at turning two partners in crime against each other.
Soon, there will be hell to pay in a big way.
The action scenes are sparse, but very good when unfolding.
There’s lots of typical gunplay drama, where the bad guys can’t hit a
target to save their lives, but the good guys never miss.
There is a great car chase scene near the end that will keep you on the
edge of your seat. And, when
there’s no action, the film is carried along by the humor, the visual style,
and Samuel L. Jackson’s cool presence in the lead.
One element that is strangely missing is the sex:
apart from a few ‘blue’ shots during the opening credits, Shaft
appears to be too single-minded of purpose in this film to be the ladies’ man
his uncle once was, even if he does get to say “it’s my duty to please that
I admire John Singleton a great deal, but I must
confess…I’m not sure he’s right for action.
He has some great ideas, to be sure, but other moments are a little hit
and miss. The shot where the camera
follows Shaft’s thrown badge until it buries into a wall is contrived, and
breaks up the drama by calling attention to itself.
A shot where a car nearly rams Shaft looks much better in the
supplemental material…in the film, Singleton chose the least interesting
angle, and killed the excitement! I
couldn’t help thinking overall that the man I wanted to see directing Shaft
was Antoine Fuqua of The Replacement Killers fame…a man who could
combine slick action set pieces with great camerawork and editing, and an
overall visual style that brought the action into the heart of the urban
Still, there was much I liked about Shaft, and I
give it a three star rating because it was entertaining, with good stretches of
action, plus it boasted an excellent cast across the board and Samuel L. Jackson
in the title role. I think what all
concerned created in this film is the start of something good…we’ll just
have to wait and see what direction any sequel might find.
Top notch! As
with Mission Impossible 2, Paramount delivers a sharp, crisp, and
reference quality anamorphic transfer. The
print is pretty much in perfect condition, and the colors are bright and natural
looking throughout, with good containment and subtle shading and detail.
There is no softness to any of the images—they are sharply rendered
down to the smallest background items, without any hint of compression, grain,
haze, or anything to spoil the picture’s looks.
Rivaling the video quality is a tremendous 5.1 audio track.
At the start of the film, that famous high-hat tapping comes through with
razor sharpness, and I knew I was in for a treat.
Isaac Hayes’ music has never sounded so good, with the subwoofer giving
the bass and his low voice that extra kick.
The music is a treat throughout, but only the beginning of the story. The film’s action sequences make excellent use of the
discreet signals, bringing the gunplay and car chases to vibrant, thrilling life
in your living room. This
soundtrack puts you right in the middle of the action and keeps you there…an
Not a bad bevy of extras, though I sure would have loved a
commentary track with either or both of John Singleton and Samuel L. Jackson!
There is a collection of cast and crew interviews, though, which is good,
plus a detailed making-of documentary that gets into the “whys” of the
remake, and even features Isaac Hayes in the studio re-recording the famed
theme. There is a trailer and two music videos, including one for
Hayes’ “Theme From Shaft”, and one from R. Kelly, “Bad Man”. This is all rounded out nicely with some cool animated menus
accompanied by music.