Shaft

****1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The credit titles are a work of art, emphasising the iconic nature of this black hero. The poster slogan says it all: Still The Man. Who else but Samuel L Jackson could slip into Richard Roundtree's leather jacket with such authority? John Shaft, the NYPD cop, breaks every rule.

The original Shaft of the Seventies, who became a sex symbol for African Americans throughout the nation, was a stud. The movies played cooler than 007. Style by the mile, babe. Proud and loud, bro.

John Singleton, whose first movie, Boyz N The Hood, was such a sensation, is not interested in some kind of tribute pastichy thing. He knows the neighbourhood, has a feeling for ghetto vibes and is close to the bone.

Jackson picks up on this. Shaft is focused and ruthless. These streets are his war zone. There is no time for pillow talk or the love machine. He does what he does and expects to come out alive. He's no hero. There are no heroes. Not here. It's too dark and dirty. There are big boys dressed gangsta, with guns everywhere. People die in fire fights. It's like Georgia. The Wild West comes East, where the crazy laws of the drug dealer and the vicious action of the cops collide.

There is a story dipping and diving through this ethnic jungle about a spoilt rich kid (Christian Bale) who beats a black boy to death outside a swanky watering hole and is seen by a scared waitress (Toni Collette).

Using daddy's money and influence, he gets bail, has the girl paid off and escapes to Europe. When he returns two years later, Shaft is waiting.

By this time it's personal and there are other, tougher guys involved, namely Peoples Hernandez (scintillating performance from Jeffrey Wright), a Dominican drug baron, who has been paid in stolen heirlooms to kill the girl.

Although an action cop thriller, this is no run-of-the-mill shoot-'em-up. It has a definite signature and a real blackness to it, as if the plot is a sideline to the true drama, which is about corruption, territory, racism, anger, pride and all that stuff howling for retribution in places where white men are despised. Richard Roundtree appears as Uncle John, a sweet gesture for those who loved him in the early movies. It is good to say hi again, but with Sam Jackson on this kind of form, who needs reminding that Shaft had another life 25 years ago? This one is more than enough to be getting along with.

Reviewed on: 26 Mar 2001
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Shaft packshot
The NYPD dective who won't play by the rules gets a millennium makeover.
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Director: John Singleton

Writer: Richard Price, John Singleton, Shane Salerno

Starring: Samuel L Jackson, Vanessa L. Williams, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Bale, Busta Rhymes, Dan Hedaya, Toni Collette, Richard Roundtree, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Josef Sommer, Lynne Thigpen

Year: 2000

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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