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Shaft (2000)

review by Ren C.

Rated R

Studio: Paramount

Running Time: 99 minutes

Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Vanessa L. Williams, Christian Bale

Screenplay by John Singleton, Shane Salerno and Richard Price
Story by John Singleton and Shane Salerno
Based on the novel by Ernest Tidyman

Directed by John Singleton

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Making-of Featurette, Cast Interviews, 2 Music Videos, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, English Closed Captions, English Subtitles, Chapter Search

Let me start this review by emphasizing one point, namely that Samuel L. Jackson is the coolest man in Hollywood. There, having said that, I feel comfortable to move on in this review. While "Shaft" may, at first glance seem like a remake, it is nothing of the sort. If anything, while it couldn't be classified as a sequel to the 1970s movies starring Richard Roundtree, per se, it can be more accurately classified as a continuation of the series. This is further emphasized by the fact that Richard Roundtree appears in the movie, reprising his role as Jackson's uncle Shaft.

Moving on to the plot of the movie, we open immediately immersed in action, with an apparent murder having just taken place outside a New York nightclub. The police are on the scene, including Detective John Shaft (Jackson). He investigates, and based upon a tip from a waitress in the bar (the amazing Toni Collette), he locates the suspect, Walter Wade Jr. (Christian Bale). However, because of a bit of an altercation that Shaft has with Wade, Shaft is removed from the precinct. Wade is able to use his father's connections to make bail, and leaves the country.

We then shift forward to two years later, and see Shaft once again apprehend Bale as he reenters the country from Switzerland. However, Wade is again able to convince the judge to set bail, and again manages to get free. Shaft is, to say the least, perturbed by this and turns in his badge in the most unique manner that I have ever seen. When questioned by his partner Vasquez (Vanessa Williams), as to why he has done this, he says that he is going to get Wade his own way. The only problem with this is that the waitress who could provide the key to convicting Wade has disappeared. In addition, Wade has found an ally, Peoples Hernandez (Jeffrey Wright), the local drug lord, who is also looking for the waitress.

This sets up the basic plot of the movie, but the movie is much more complex than this. This, despite being an action movie, sets up one of the most interesting plots I have seen in quite some time. It manages to be that rarest of creature, an action movie that satisfies both in terms of action and plot. Another major plus to this movie is the acting. While it is not filled with big name stars, it does manage to present a number of actors doing incredible jobs within their roles. Collette, Bale and Wright all paint their characters with degrees of emotion that other actors more than likely would not have brought to the role. I also enjoyed the fact that Richard Roundtree plays a fairly significant role in the movie, which is a nice tip of the hat.

This is also a very authentic movie, having been shot throughout New York City, and has that gritty, "on-the-street" type feel to it. It is obvious that the director, John Singleton wanted to make the movie look as authentic as possible, and in doing so went out of his way to shoot at these locations. All of these elements add up to make an entertaining, and engrossing movie.

The movie was released in June of last year, and as such looks phenomenal on DVD. This is a fairly dark movie, and as such it looks very dark and very intense, all at the same time. The picture is crystal clear throughout the movie, and I have absolutely no complaints.

The movie makes full use of its 5.1 track to deliver a fully immersive experience. Being an action movie, there is a lot of gunplay and sirens involved, and at times it did feel like the movie was taking place in the room. There is also a lot of bass driven background music in the movie, and it is evident, but never to the point of overshadowing the foreground action.

This is the only area where the disc is slightly disappointing. It would have been nice to see some comparison between the modern Shaft and Roundtree's Shaft, or something of that nature, but I take what I can get.

First up is the making-of featurette, and can we say "promotional", boys and girls? This told me absolutely nothing new about the movie, despite running for about fifteen minutes. In fact, the trailer did more in two minutes to make me want to see the movie than this featurette did in fifteen.

Next is a series of cast interviews, again not particularly revelatory. All the major players are interviewed here, and the major thing that these interviews made me appreciate was how authentic Collette, Bale and Wright's accents were in the movie. It seriously does not sound like the same actors.

There are two music videos provided on the disc as well. The first is a prerequisite when talking about Shaft-Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft". The song was re-recorded for this updated version of Shaft, and while it is still good just because it is the theme from Shaft, it doesn't seem to quite hold up to the 70s version. For one thing, the three-minute introduction is gone, which definitely helped the older version. Again, just a small nit-pick. The other video provided is R. Kelly's "Bad Man", which seems like every other ballad that R. Kelly has ever released. Nothing of interest happens in this video, as it is the standard "artist sings in a room and sings the song while being alternated with clips from the movie" video.

Wrapping up the features is the very impressive theatrical trailer, which the first time I saw it made me want to see the movie, and now that I have seen the movie it makes me want to see it again. That is the sign of an effective trailer.

While I'm not thrilled about the relative lack of features, in this case, it doesn't matter all that much. This disc could be featureless and I would still recommend it, I enjoyed the movie just that much. As such, the way the disc is now, I still have no hesitation in giving it a high recommendation.

(4.5/5 - NOT included in final score)




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