Review by Sean Boelman
The newest film from multi-talented artist RZA (of Wu-Tang Clan fame), Cut Throat City is a new heist movie with a surprising amount of heart. Despite a bit of a rocky start, RZA’s stylish film is ultimately very compelling because once it finds its footing, it’s both very meaningful and a ton of fun.
The movie follows four childhood friends who, out of desperation in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, are forced to pull off a dangerous heist. Part of what makes the film work so well is that the script by Paul Cuschieri doesn’t get too wrapped up in abiding by the genre tropes, instead focusing on the emotional impact of the characters’ actions.
By setting the movie in the context of Hurricane Katrina, Cuschieri and RZA use their film as a statement about the ineptitude of the government in response to crises such as this. Although the story is obviously a bit exaggerated, people were really driven to desperate lengths to keep their livelihoods because the government didn’t have the ability to take care of its people.
As a result, the characters are extremely sympathetic. Even though one may not agree with what they are doing, there’s a good chance that they will understand why they are doing it, especially if they have lived through a similar crisis themselves. This is why the movie hits so much harder than most heist films.
The cast that RZA assembled for his film is absolutely massive, and while not all of the actors are fully utilized, the big cast makes the movie feel fittingly old-school. Shameik Moore plays the lead, and he does an excellent job of grounding the film in emotion. Wesley Snipes, Terrence Howard, Eiza González, and Ethan Hawke all have fun turns in the supporting cast, but none gets nearly as much screen time as they deserve.
RZA also brings a great deal of visual style to the movie, and while it can be a bit aggressive at times, it makes the film feel very definitively his own. The action sequences in particular feel fittingly over-the-top, serving as an excellent throwback to the cartoonish heist movies of the olden days.
If the movie doesn’t quite nail something, it’s the pacing. The first act takes a while to get moving, and while the character development is necessary, it could have been done much more concisely. Additionally, the film features a framing device involving comic books that adds an unnecessary ten minutes to the storyline.
Cut Throat City is the type of entertaining but intelligent star-driven action flick that audiences eat up if it gets the right exposure, so hopefully it will catch on. RZA certainly has a great deal of vision as a filmmaker, so it will be exciting to see what he can do next.
Cut Throat City opens in theaters on August 21.