Vigilantism in film is pretty much a cop-out -- the type of story one writes when one doesn't have an original idea. In the fantasy world of film, vigilante justice can be made to look plausible and downright alluring because the director can offer the audience the advantage of omniscience. We know the truth because we see all points of view. We know Walter Wade (Christian Bale) is a racist scumbag. We know he killed a young black student for no reason at all. We know that John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) is totally justified in doing anything to take him down.
That's why it's so pathetic that director John Singleton chose this flimsy story to bring Shaft back to the screen -- nearly 30 years after the premiere of the 1971 original. Shaft must find a witness (Toni Collette) while being pursued by two corrupt cops (Dan Hedaya and Ruben Santiago-Hudson) and a Dominican drug lord, Peoples Hernandez (Jeffrey Wright).
Basically what Singleton is suggesting is that it's okay to shoot everyone in sight if you know you're right. The ending doesn't suggest it; it celebrates it. To paraphrase a Clint Eastwood line, "Killing is great as long as the right people get killed." There's just a little bit of irony in the fact that this film is being released at the same time there's this big hullabaloo about death row inmates being exonerated by DNA evidence. I'm sure there was some tough cop somewhere who thought he had the right man. Maybe he should have just taken the law into his own hands and shot the guy, thus keeping that pesky DNA stuff from ever becoming an issue. The problem with the people in the world is that every damn one of them thinks they're right.
Of course, the ultimate irony is that most death row inmates and most people put to death in this country are black, yet here's John Singleton suggesting that vigilante justice might be the way to go. Again, a great idea if the right guy is pulling the trigger. Frankly, it's not much of a social statement and it's not much of a movie.
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