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SHAFT

SYNOPSIS:
When spoiled college kid Walter Wade (Christian Bale) kills a young black student, John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) makes the arrest. Walter skips bail and flees the country, and after two years of waiting, Shaft hauls him back into custody when Walter secretly returns to the States. But when Walter's wealthy father posts bail once again, Walter is back out on the streets and looking to put Shaft in a body bag. So are two of Shaft's corrupt colleagues, Jack Roselli and Jimmy Grovitch (Dan Hedaya and Ruben Santiago-Hudson), as well as a Dominican drug lord, Peoples Hernandez (Jeffrey Wright) who wants revenge on Shaft for humiliating him in the neighbourhood he rules. Shaft has to track down the one murder witness, Diana Palmieri (Toni Collette) who can put all of his enemies away for good, as the toughest killers in the city close on him.

"Yep dude, Shaft with the ultra cool Samuel L. is saturated with style and attitude. Oh yeah. Lips, breasts, guns and life on the streets loom before us in slick, rhythmic visuals as Isaac Hayes's syncopated musical theme rebounds. It's everything you expect and more – he's black, he's a rebel, he's dripping with Armani, and yes he saves the day as well. Fast paced with sharp editing and a fabulous cast, Shaft delivers plenty of action, impressive stunts and non-stop thrills for its entire 99 minute duration. We canvass racial discrimination, police corruption, anti-drug message, political greed and we are never in any doubt of the outcome. Jackson is perfectly cast, Christian Bale is superb as the spoilt college kid who relies on his father's reputation to get him out of scrapes and Toni Collette is just right as the reluctant witness. Good to see the original Shaft, Richard Roundtree back in the role – he's an uncle now – and he hasn't changed that much at all. But it's Jeffrey Wright as Peoples Hernandez, the Dominical drug lord who adds the fire and the yan to Jackson's yin. Wright (we loved him in Basquiat) looks wild with his facial hair and sideburns that come to a long point, like a knife ready to take the plunge. His accent is absolutely compelling – even when we can't quite understand what he's saying! (Speaking of hair – I was interested to see Mr Jackson's hair credited to Robert Stephenson. Bald obviously needs special attention!) There's language and violence galore – so be prepared. My only reservation is about the violence in the context. At times, it tends to promote violence as a means to an end. But after all, Shaft is total escapism, and man, this is as cool as you get."
Louise Keller

"The last time I saw the Richard Roundtree original of Shaft was less than a year ago, on video; Manhattan’s streets seemed somehow gentler and John Shaft seemed more interested in bedrooms than brawls. . . at least by comparison to the newer, updated model. If anything, it was that sexually active side of him that made him so cool in the 70s, and the action man side of him was just a badge of masculinity. Nobody can deny that Sam Jackson is The Man if we are to have a reincarnation. The man is dripping in cool. I’d like to spend a night on the town with him, perhaps two. Nor can we deny the unmitigated genius of his nemesis Jeffrey Wright as Peoples, a performance that slams you against the wall harder even than Shaft might. And Christian Bale is so good he’s disturbing – again. A taut script, Singleton’s searing direction – all visceral angles, shots, scenes, lighting – and that old voodoo theme music by Isaac ‘Helluvaguy’ Hayes, combine to make this a strutting, brooding, get-your-Armani-clad-butt-ova-here kinda movie. The violence could be toned down for the kids’ sake, and even the anti-drugs message is delivered with a tad too much of it, but aside from that I have no reservations: this is a tight Shaft experience. (Not to be taken with a weak heart or soft head.)"
Andrew L. Urban

"Shaft looks and sounds good from the opening credits as the soundtrack slinks into life with Isaac Hayes' original theme. No reworking, re-recording or sampling by kids who weren't even born when the 1971 adaptation of Ernest Tidyman's novel hit the big screen. This is the real thing and the signal from director John Singleton is that he's going to do it right from the start. He keeps his promise for the most part in this efficient cop thriller which has enough slick on the sides to make it go down well. The key to the film's success is the casting of Samuel L Jackson - the only actor alive with the credentials to inherit the crown worn first worn by Richard Roundtree in the MGM hit which lifted blaxploitation into the main arena. John Shaft is a cultural icon; Singleton and Jackson know this and deliver what's required as the "black private dick who's a sex machine to all the chicks" kicks ass and outsmarts all comers on the way to nabbing rich racist white boy Wade, played by Christian Bale, who's in fine form following his American Psycho assignment. There's plenty of action, vivid villainy from Bale and Geoffrey Wright as a Dominican drug boss, excellent use of New York locales and a welcome support role for Roundtree as Uncle John Shaft. Plot-wise it's fairly routine and Toni Collette has disappointingly little to do other than look frightened, as if she now also sees dead people, but the vigour of the enterprise keeps it afloat. One disappointing aspect is a lack of clear demonstration that Shaft is indeed a sex machine. We know it via a few isolated nods and winks but has filmmaking become so politically correct that today’s exploitation pictures eschew the elements which made them great in the first place? While this is no classic of any genre, Samuel L's overproof cool ensures a good time and preserves the legend well."
Richard Kuipers

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HEAR Andrew L. Urban & Louise Keller talk about the film in Real Audio.

CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

Read Jenny Cooney Carillo's interview with

SAMUEL L. JACKSON

and

TONI COLLETTE

See our FEATURE

TRAILER

Read Brad Green's SOUNDTRACK REVIEW with audio excerpts

SHAFT (MA15+)
(US)

CAST: Samuel L. Jackson, Vanessa Williams, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Bale, Busta Rhymes, Dan Hedaya, Toni Collette and Richard Roundtree
DIRECTOR: John Singleton

PRODUCER: Scott Rudin, John Singleton

SCRIPT: Richard Price, John Singleton, Shane Salerno

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Donald E. Thorin ASC

EDITOR: John Bloom

MUSIC: David Arnold, Isaac Hayes

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Patrizia von Brandenstein

RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 26, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount Pictures

VIDEO RELEASE: April 12, 2001

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