Shaft has sworn to bring racist Walter Wade (Christian Bale) to justice after he kills a black student at a restaurant one night. Walter skips the jailhouse after being granted bail twice (a feat achieved by greasing the right palms) and incurs Shaft's wrath.
Peoples Hernandez (Jeffrey Wright), a Dominican drug lord, is hired by Wade to locate and kill Diane Palmieri (Toni Collette), the only witness at the scene of the crime, before Shaft can contact her and make her testify against him.
In turn Peoples hires the corrupt services of Jack Roselli (Dan Hedaya) and Jimmy Groves (Ruban Santiago-Hudson) - Shaft's colleagues. Meanwhile, Shaft relies on the advice of private eye Uncle John, Police Officer Carmen (Vanessa Williams), streetsmart Rasaan (Busta Rhymes) and his personal charm to save the day.
Guns, car chases, vendettas, reluctant witnesses, insider tip-offs and lots of attitude from the guy in charge...what we have here is a remake of the original "Shaft" (released 1971), one of the pioneer "blaxploitation" flicks to hit theatres. Based on the books by Earnest Tidyman, a pulp fiction writer, this movie rests on the shoulders of Samuel L. Jackson who plays a suave, experienced, dedicated officer of the NYPD.
Jackson portrays his character with confidence. It's clear he's had fun playing the role. Jeffrey Wright plays the principal villain. An aggravated criminal up against the intelligence of a seasoned crime buster, he performs his part with flair. His accent and dressing almost make him non-serious. Still, he is representative of scores of upstart young lawbreakers who walk New York's streets, hoping to cash in on a vibrant network of illegal activities that operates in the city. Christian Bale plays an rich kid who must have his way convincingly; he's one of the more interesting characters in the film.
The editing is slick and the film moves at a steady pace, sprinkled with enough twists and turns to keep the audience mildly occupied. Singleton has given the movie a smooth flow, taking us from one scene to another carefully, making sure we understand the intricacies of the story.
The darker side of New York is given lots of footage - its low-budget apartments and shady streets with its immigrant occupants and their less-than-lawful activities form the backdrop of the movie.This article was first published on 13 Nov 2000.