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A relatively simple, yet effective, crime thriller. If what you're looking for is a time portal into the '70s, or a fun, funky-as-all-hell romp, you've got it here. If you're looking for character arcs (or even three-dimensional characters in general), good story structure (well, it's not all that bad), and clever plotting, this is not the film for you. I found exactly what I was expecting, and enjoyed it; particularly the music, which is fantastic. Yeah, there's a lot of period-heavy language and whatnot, but I tend to roll my eyes at those who scorn this. It's rare you get a film that could exist, written the same way, in any era. Anyway, I'd recommend watching it, if only for the cultural importance (pretty much the biggest blaxploitation film of all time, and was instrumental in starting a movement).
Shaft, the blaxploitation hit that rocked the world, is perhaps definitely a product of its time, and I'd love to see it with a 1971 audience (alas, I was born that year). While it hasn't exactly aged well, I don't think that's because of period details, but simply that its attitude and politics don't seem as shocking or groundbreaking today. So we're left with an exploitation movie done on the cheap, with bad dubbing and not as much action as you imagine. Still, Richard Roundtree's charisma in the lead role takes us a long way, the groovy production design is fun, the funky Isaac Hayes music is iconic, and the camera work is actually pretty cool in the first half of the film (but the tricks seem to evaporate in the second half as the complicated, unmemorable plot takes hold). Shaft will feel a little slow to today's audience, but you can tell why its insolence had an impact back in the day.
Probably one of the best movie soundtracks of all time.
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In 10 official lists
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This movie ranks #5 in Slate's The Black Film Canon
This movie ranks #30 in Quentin Tarantino's Coolest Movies of All Time
This movie ranks #56 in 101 Gangster Movies You Must See Before You Die
This movie ranks #161 in Jennifer Eiss's 500 Essential Cult Movies
This movie ranks #217 in Harvard's Suggested Film Viewing: Narrative Films
This movie ranks #309 in Library of Congress's National Film Registry
This movie ranks #525 in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
This movie ranks #774 in The New York Times's Book of Movies
This movie ranks #797 in The Guardian's 1000 Films to See Before You Die
This movie ranks #1354 in The Criterion Collection