First, the plot. Rich white kid Walter Wade (Christian Bale) kills a black man at a bar. Diane Palmeri (Toni Collette) is the only one witness, but she disappears that night. Wade gets off on bail, and flees the country. Two years later, he shows up again, and Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) is there to nab him. Inexplicably, Wade gets bail again, even after proving that he was untrustworthy by fleeing the country the first time. Shaft quits, and attempts to bring Wade to justice on his own terms, but with the help of his former associates. Meanwhile, Wade is afraid that the witness will turn up, so he hires Peoples to find her and kill her. Peoples has a history with Shaft, and is glad to help out. Peoples hires crooked cop Roselli to help out, but Shaft is smart enough to know what's going on. Gunfights and chase scenes ensue.
Spoiler alert! If you haven't seen the film, and still want to, please don't read past this sentence. Up to that point, I was pretty impressed with how Singleton handled a formula police drama. Jackson is smooth, and he fits the part well. The film could have been really bad, but I enjoyed it up to the end. Sure, all of the usual action movie clichés are there, but they were done with such style as to be forgivable.
What was unforgivable was the ending. The mother of the slain man from the beginning, who had waited patiently for elusive justice, shoots Bale as he walks up the courthouse steps toward inevitable life in prison. This action makes no sense, and the film's tacit approval of murder is the kind of vigilante crap I haven't seen since Dirty Harry hung up his gun. I would have understood if she shot him the first time, when he was first arraigned and set free on bail. I would have understood if she shot him the second time, when he returned from his two-year-long vacation in Switzerland, and he got off on bail yet again. The third time makes no sense. They had an eyewitness, a favorable judge, and a new jury. Bale was headed to prison. The mother's action is unforgivable, and I am ashamed for Singleton to have included such an irrational act. I realize that he was making the point that the criminal justice system gives great advantage to white criminals, especially if they're rich. I agree with that wholeheartedly. However, the ending to this film was the wrong way to make the point.
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