Shaft (2001) Review
The 2001 version of Shaft was directed by John Singleton and stars Samuel L. Jackson as John Shaft, a New York Police Detective who is determined to lock away the evil and spoiled Walter Wade, Jr. Christian Bale plays Walter Wade, a person who is responsible for a racially driven murder of an African-American in a upscale lounge in New York City. Compared to the original Shaft first created in the 1970s, the modern-day version of Shaft illustrates many of the same factors that make up classic blaxploitation films as well as utilizing a post-modernist approach to the make a stand against the dominant ideology of other blaxploitation films.
While viewing this version of Shaft, I couldn’t help but compare it to the original 1970s version. I noticed many similarities and concepts that factor into many other blaxploitation films. The first of these similarities is the characteristics and attitude of the central character, John Shaft. The John Shaft that Richard Roundtree acts as in the original Shaft plays an anti-hero type of role and classifies himself as a badass. Samuel L. Jackson also acts as a violent anti-hero by quitting the police force and taking matters into his own hands. Roger Ebert, in his review of Shaft, states “At the center of the tug of war, pulled both ways and enjoying it, is Samuel L. Jackson, as a tough cop who throws his badge back at a judge (literally) and becomes a free-lance vigilante.” Although the similarities between the two films are helpful in connecting the story, it does lead to part of its downfall. Roger Ebert continues by saying Shaft is “oo much of it is on automatic pilot, as it must be, to satisfy the fans of the original “Shaft.”
Although it is easy to see the similarities between the two versions of Shaft, there are plenty of differences. Roger Ebert states this modern-day Shaft is “not just a retread of the old movie, but Shaft as more complicated than before, and with well-observed supporting characters.” The biggest difference I noticed between the two films is the intensity of racism in each of the films. The original Shaft does not directly bring up racism in the film. Where the original Shaft chooses to displace racism, the modern-day Shaft chooses to utilize condensation. Examples of this racism include the original murder of Trey Howard by Walter Wade Jr. as well as the tension between Wade and Peoples Hernadez. Another major difference between the two shafts is the amount of sexuality. Robert Ebert believes “One thing modern about the movie is its low sexual quotient. Blaxploitation came along at a time when American movies were sexy, with lots of nudity and bedroom time.”
Both these similarities and differences prove to how the dominate ideology of blaxploitation films have changed over the past 30 years. I had difficulty determining whether this version of Shaft challenges or supports the dominant ideology. Because it has many similarities of previous blaxploitation films, I feel it supports the stereotypical blaxploitation films rather than challenge what is ‘normal.’
Lastly, after viewing the movie and reading the review by Roger Ebert, it seems Shaft’s is a post-modern film. A major concept of a post-modern film is using scenes from past movies to convery the plot. Roger Ebert states “The story’s broad outlines are familiar not only from early 1970s black exploitation movies, but also from the early “Dirty Harry” pictures, and when a top cop orders Shaft to get out of his precinct, it’s like he’s reciting dialogue from the classics.” He continues by saying “The way they talk to each other, the words they choose, the attitudes they strike, the changes they go through, are as subtly menacing as scenes in a film by Lee or Scorsese.” After reading this, I immediately saw the connection between post-modernism and Shaft. Overall, I felt like this version of Shaft had a lot of action, which created a lot of excitement, but ultimately the lack of a strong plot made it difficult for me to watch Shaft again.