SHAFT (2019) Review: What Do They Say About This Cat?
Dir Tim Story
Starring Samuel L Jackson, Jessie T Usher, Richard Rowntree
You have Richard Rowntree in the original. A blisteringly evocative look at poverty and community life in New York during the seventies. With amazing settings, sublime soundtrack, and heroic performances. John Shaft was the uber cool private eye who stood on his own, fought the good fight, and made love to alllll the ladies! it truly was a highlight of modern cinema. “I got to feeling like a machine. And that ain’t no way to feel” was the line that stuck to me. A naked black man chilling out in his lair with an album and a woman, it was something new. A black hero that was no Uncle Tom, neither was he answerable to anyone. He made his environment a product of himself, rather than the other way round. He answered to no-one and took care of the weak whilst punishing the wicked.
A mark of excellence in this particular film is in its subtlety as well as its ground-breaking portrayal of upwardly mobile, professional yet forthright black men in cinema. The scene where Richard Rowntree knocks on the landlord’s door, played by Gordon Parks (who is also in the 2000 version) and as he walks away, Parks asks if he knows todays number (policy), always felt like the mark of true filmmaking. A subtle nod to the bleak hopefulness from corrupt practices that were the only joys available to many residents of Harlem.
Just in case it wasn’t clear enough, there was THAT song as well. If you don’t love that, you don’t love life.
There were two other sequels with the same actor in the lead. Shaft’s Big Score! And Shaft in Africa. Neither were comparable nor had the impact of the first.
Then there is the 2000 Shaft. Sam L Jackson plays John Shaft, the nephew/son of the original character, who shows up in rather gratuitous ways. Many hated it, I really enjoyed it. A lot was down to awesome talent in supporting antagonist roles, especially race-killing sociopathic yuppie brat Walter Wade Jnr played by Christian Bale (with no hint of Patrick Bateman, showing his ability to have range, even when playing almost the same character) and slick viper Peoples Hernandez, the local crime boss played by the underrated Jeffery Wright (one of Nicely Put’s favourite actors). The story was basic but engaging, it had comic relief from Busta Rhymes, this was a popcorn classic.
Then you have this movie. I could almost end the movie review here and you would know everything. For it to be even mentioned along with the original is a sharp cut.
The story is so laughably unimaginative that you expect it to be a spoof, but it is not. Best friend, army vet, drugs problem (he may as well have had a crucifix and a running time clock above his head) he is killed but it is suspicious so Shaft Jnr calls Middle Shaft and in the end Big Shaft (Rowntree) helps. He disapproves of his son but when the son finally tires of it and tells him he hates him, the son finds out the father did something to protect him and is actually really proud of him.
Writing about three generations of men with the same name, where the main star is not the one who is the main point of reference is absolutely spirit crushing. I earn my money today.
It is laughably stereotypical. I am disgusted that black men of such positive standing such as Richard Rowntree and Samuel L Jackson would partake in such a disparaging yack. John Shaft (Sam Jackson) is an absentee father, he is bemused at his son (New Shaft) for his computer skills (FBI Analyst) and his apparent lack of violence. Cue a clumsy idiot-bait scene where SLJ beats someone up. Wash, rinse, racism. SLJ starts and ends sentences with high pitched “Yo mama raised you to do whaaaaat?” Such racist, homophobic, and violent sexism was prevalent in 1971 (so I am told) but not today. Saying it in a squeaky voice does not make it okay Nick Fury.
Watch the dinner table scene in Anchorman 2. The subtlety is similar. There are so many negative stereotypes of African American men, women, and children that it should be used in a workshop as a standard to avoid. Baby Mommas are aplenty.
I will not delve too much into how bad the cinematography is, the glistening film (as in ‘cling’) sticks to the production like, well I am sure they would say “White on rice, honky.” The CGI rubbish they inject into the absurd gunplay is worthy of a Paint 3D project, and the dialogue, when not inherently racist, is cliched, lazy, and expositional in a way that could knock over a tower block. Add to that it is desperately referential to the infinitely better prequels and all in all you have the summary I will give.
Arguably the greatest film critic in the world, Roger Ebert called it “sexist, homophobic garbage …. belongs in a sewer”
For those that watched it just for the song would get to the end and find a new, awful version of it. The final sin.