Social relevance showing up in genre filmmaking is far from new, though it has taken on additional significance in the current cultural climate in America. We have seen this in the increase of female representation in action-oriented genres, including the announcement that the next 007 will be a woman. Similarly, racial representation within Hollywood has taken some clear strides in recent years, which is why she is also black. Because of this, it is equally unsurprising to see RZA integrating these themes into his latest film. Unfortunately, these themes often get lost in a convoluted plot that can’t seem to decide what genre it belongs to or what it wants to say. In terms of representation, Cut Throat City wins, even though it fails at some basic aspects of storytelling.
Set in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the politics of the film are referential for the audience. We understand that the government officials are going to be either corrupt or inept before their characters have even been fully developed in the plot. The stereotyping works both ways, however, and what is most unfortunate about the film is how many of the black characters in the film are criminals. The protagonists are four friends (played by Shameik Moore, Demetrius Shipp Jr., Keean Johnson and Denzel Whitaker) newly entering the game, and while they are more sympathetic than the crime bosses they encounter, they are far from admirable.
The justification for these childhood friends deciding to rob a casino is the lack of jobs and opportunities available to them in the city after the devastation of Katrina, and their frustration that the priority of the city officials has been on developing casinos rather than building the Lower Ninth Ward back up. Outside of this crime, the film does take the time to let us know more about these characters and their aspirations for life. Our introduction to the friends is through a graphic novel Blink (Shameik Moore) is developing, and each of the others have relationships and obligations made clear long before the first crime is committed. After making a cautious alliance with a dangerous neighborhood crime lord known as “Cousin” Bass (played by rapper T.I.), the four friends carry out a casino robbery. Inevitably, things go bad, and they find themselves running from both the criminal they owe and the police investigating the crime.
It isn’t that individual elements of the film don’t work, but together it just feels jumbled. We spend a great deal of time on character development, and then the characters never seem to develop any further in the course of the runtime. The story is just as confused, giving us endless scenes of bureaucracy with a seedy politician (played with glee by Ethan Hawke), while never really knowing what to do with its main characters. In the end, it is a film of pointless rebellion and violence, and our protagonists are little more than pawns in the narrative. For a much better film with similar themes, I would recommend Queen & Slim.
The Blu-ray release of Cut Throat City comes with a DVD copy as well. The special features on the discs include a behind-the-scenes featurette and a handful of deleted scenes (though the film is plenty long already).
Entertainment Value: 4/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 5.5/10
Historical Significance: 4/10
Special Features: 4/10