The new movie “Cut Throat City,” directed by RZA, whose artistic renown began with the hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan, opens as heist pictures sometimes do — with some friends talking things over. The four guys don’t yet know that they’re going to become criminals. Rather, they’re discussing a graphic novel that one of them, Blink (Shameik Moore), is drafting. Blink’s description of it reminds them of their favorite movies. They mention the “realness” of “The Godfather” and side-eye the overuse of a racial epithet in some Quentin Tarantino movies.
In their everyday New Orleans lives, Blink and his crew are hopeful strivers; after Hurricane Katrina hits, they’re in desperate straits. “First they flood us, then they push us out,” one character observes of what’s happening in their Black neighborhoods. They make a tentative, terrifying alliance with a local crime lord, “Cousin” Bass (the rapper T.I.), whose method of keeping underlings in line is demonstrated in a cringe-inducing scene.
Commanding as he is, Bass is a low-level player, as the friends discover. The “they” that wields power and corruption in this town, and by extension this country, is multitiered and embodied in the movie by Ethan Hawke, Terrence Howard and other expert performers.
The heists that Blink and his associates pull off at Bass’s behest are not breezy. They’re sweaty, loud and replete with double-crosses. The reversals the characters suffer across the movie’s running time are epic, and the movie’s finale unfolds to genuinely startling effect.
While not pursuing the cinematic pyrotechnics of the films and filmmakers mentioned in the opening scene, RZA tells this story (from a screenplay by Paul Cuschieri) with deliberation and imaginative daring. With “Cut Throat City,” his third feature, he comes into his own as a director.
Cut Throat City
Rated R for violence, language, themes. Running time: 2 hours 12 minutes. Opening in select theaters.
Source: NY Times – Review