Shaft (2000)

Rating: N/A

Dir: John Singleton
Star: Samuel L.Jackson, Vanessa L. Williams, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Bale

In 1971, I saw my first “blaxploitation” film and became instantly hooked. What these films did was open the way for a slew of action filled, violent, urban warfare that was the center stage of the neighborhood I grew up in. To see it glorified on a big screen was a huge slap in the face to politicians, law enforcement and most white people. Not that any of these films were worthy of any “Oscars”. They were terribly written, the dialogue was crap and the action left little to be desired. But those pimp costumes and cars had me screaming in hysterics. “Diamond in the back, sun roof top, diggin’ the scene with a gangsta gleam…” Shaft, in 1971 was a bad mutha. But really, he was nothing, compared to Shaft in 2000!

Still the Man…

“He sounds like the Chef!”, my daughter whispered to me as the opening credits started with the original soundtrack song sung by Isaac Hayes. I rolled my eyes, ’cause she had no idea that “the chef” had a career long before he was animated on South Park. Jackson looks ten feet tall as he strides around New York in his long black leather coat. A frustrated cop on the edge of quitting and/or being fired and/or being transferred from precinct to precinct for attitude problems with his superiors – Samuel L. Jackson is Shaft. He just bursts with attitude from every single angle – from the way he dresses, to his superb triple goatee, to his razor-sharp wit and his passion for justice, which can go to extremes, much to the dismay of his co-workers and supervisors.

He is now pitted against two of the most deliciously evil nemeses. Bale – who first caught my attention in American Psycho, and is a clear candidate for stereotyping if he’s not careful – and Jeffrey Wright, a character actor, who plays a gangster drug dealer with family ties in the very Hispanic and war-torn South Bronx. Interaction between all the characters is great, some excellent dialogue is exchanged in the buildup to a climax, and is led there by lots and lots of fights, car chases and gameplay in the truest New York sense of the word. I enjoyed this film immensely from beginning to end. It’s not about color anymore. It’s not making a statement of race. It’s a Good vs Evil romp that is a welcome introduction, even if you never knew who Shaft was. But, of course, if you did know, and had the luck to see it the first time, this is a “welcome home” of the ultimate degree because it should have been done this way, in the first place.