This review is written as a defence of John Singleton's 'homage' to the 2000 edition of Shaft. The majority of people that I know (6 in all) use similar terms when referring to it: average, mediocre, I-hate-Busta-Rhymes etcetera. However, it actually isn't average or mediocre at all (although Busta Rhymes is indeed a complete tool.) Sure, the story is linear, predictable and doesn't bring anything new to a tired genre (Racial injustice! Rogue cops! Black attitude!) but one has to see past that to the performances, because that's where the real gold lies. Well, three performances to be precise. First, Samuel L. Jackson. Though his roles may lack a certain amount of vicissitude, they are always entertaining. And he seems to restrain himself as the "sex machine to all the chicks." He doesn't actually have sex at all throughout the film, which I see as a good thing. As Shaft, he receives most of the animated and colourful dialogue, kills the most bad guys technically murder seeing as he resigns from the police force at the beginning), and gets to wear nine different varieties of the same jacket, all the while looking effortlessly cool. Plus he throws a police badge into a wall... really fast! Second, Christian Bale. It is no secret that Bale is now objectively the best actor of his generation, but come the dawn of the new millennium he had yet to present himself to a wider audience. Unfortunately, Shaft failed to do so too. However, is performance is superb. Following on from his equivocal turn as Norman Bates in American Psycho (2000), Bale continues his villainous streak as Walter Wade, Jr, a truly horrible character whose racial attack in a restaurant provides the basis for the story. Really the only word that can describe Wade is "a$$hole" and Bale plays this role perfectly. It is rare that one could despise a character this much and that is what makes him so fun to watch.
Third, Jeffrey Wright. If Shaft had had a better storyline and been more popular, Wright's portrayal of drug dealer/gang leader Peoples Hernandez would have been his magnum opus. His type of method acting is similar to that of Bale's, and to see them square off against one another is THE principal reason for watching, especially when Wright stabs Bale in the hand. Exciting and bloody. Wright provides entertainment in every scene, whether through his exaggerated walk, his bastardisation of the English language or simply a facial movement. Plus, he induces an element of sympathy for Peoples after his brother is killed at the hands of Shaft (of course) and provokes the audience into wondering whether his eventual demise was really justified. Really, the film should have been called 'Peoples' and he should have had three sequels.
So there it is. A short and unconvincing advocate of Shaft based on three exemplary performances. Oh, and it features Lynne Thigpen, who played the DJ in The Warriors (1979) and as The Warriors is an excellent and highly realistic depiction of New York in the seventies... that means Shaft is also worth watching? Yes it does.
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