Private eye John Shaft is hired by a crime boss to find his kidnapped daughter and gets caught up in the crossfire of a war between Harlem gangsters and the Mafia.
Shaft is the original “Blaxploitation” film, but as is always the case with progenitors of an entire genre it is actually rather tamer than you’d expect. It’s certainly an exploitation film, but the violence never crosses the line into excess and Shaft is shown to be a tolerant and fair-minded man – there is little sign of the appalling sexism and homophobia that went on the taint this type of film. It’s no surprise that Richard Roundtree was an icon to young black men in these post civil rights movement years; he is tough, stylish and never without the attention of women or money but more importantly, he is totally self-assured, fearless and not only doesn’t take any shit from “The Man”, he is accepted and respected by all concerned. Taken out of context, it’s a fairly standard 1970’s detective story, the real reason it stood out from the crowd being the fact that all of the heroes are black and Isaac Hayes’ classic soundtrack.
The humour is a little weak and lowbrow and there are a couple of amusingly pointless love scenes but as a whole it’s a stylish and efficient thriller that is no world changer, but never disappoints either.