“CUT THROAT CITY”
Photo | Rumble Riot Pictures
In a summer devoid of superhero blockbusters, one of the first movies to come back to the big screen in this strange timeline of ours is set in nearby New Orleans and directed by the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA.
“Cut Throat City” hearkens back to Hurricane Katrina, and tells the story of four boyhood friends who return to the Lower Ninth Ward with even fewer prospects than they had before the storm. It is a cry for social justice told through a criminal caper film.
Blink (Shameik Moore) is trying to pitch his graphic novel; Miracle (Demetrius Shipp Jr.) is a minor drug dealer; Junior (Keean Johnson) is a White guy who seems to have no job at all; and Andre (Denzel Whitaker) is an unsuccessful jazz musician. They are four desperate friends who will eventually prove themselves as unsuccessful criminals. Their chemistry onscreen as friends, however, rings true with great dialogue and wonderfully chosen pop culture riffs and call-outs.
With vivid details like caged raccoon fights, RZA has a feeling for the setting, and the cast is stacked with big names like Ethan Hawke, the rapper T.I., Terrence Howard and Wesley Snipes. Howard plays a crime lord known as The Saint, sporting a straw hat and sleeve garters and quoting scripture, while Snipes gives an especially authentic performance as Blink’s fisherman father.
When T.I.’s character, Cousin Bass, gives the friends a chance to rob a casino, their amateurish plan goes awry, but three-quarters of them scrape by, leading them to an even more ill-advised crime spree that attracts attention from the aforementioned supporting cast of rival crime bosses, politicians and detectives.
Shameik Moore is riveting as Blink; his features portray such vulnerability when he is faced with decisions that make him commit violence. He was also in the rather delightful 2005 movie “Dope,” which is much more lighthearted but still makes excellent use of his compelling visage.
There are so many movies about criminals and gangsters, and when we see them, they are already criminals doing their thing. But I like it when you see recognizable kinds of people becoming something that is difficult for them to become. It’s somehow relatable and interesting to think about.
Sometimes the machinery of the plot gets a little hard to believe, but our investment in the characters is always there to keep us going despite the somewhat excessive run time (just a hair over two hours; I’m antsy). The villains are sufficiently over the top, especially Howard, who reads from the Bible while nude women scoop cocaine into bags for transactions. It’s not a subtle point.
“Cut Throat City” packs a lot of action, double-crossing, dirty dealing and profanity into its story, but it is more than an exciting movie. There is a heartbreaking thread of social commentary baked into the shootouts, and it takes more than the usual time showing us how its characters got where they are, measuring the forces large and small that made them who they are and pushed them to where they find themselves. They are responsible for themselves, but that is not the whole story. They aren’t natural born killers, and the care that goes into creating these characters is the closest thing to tenderness you are likely to see in a film with this many bullets.
“Cut Throat City” is now playing at AMC Mobile 16.
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