Set in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Cut Throat City follows the young artist, Blink (Shameik Moore). Newly married and with an ambitious future, Blink is excited to start a new life. However, after Hurricane Katrina reduced their city to nothing, Blink and his friends are struggling to look for answers. With no employment opportunities and muddled government assistance, Blink and his crew turn to a local gangster (Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris) who gives them a chance to turn their fortunes around by pulling of a dangerous heist. When the job turns sour, the four young men are forced to run for their lives, yearning to return home while being pursued by both police and an angry criminal warlord.
Featuring a cast that includes Terrance Howard, Ethan Hawke, Isaiah Washington and an almost unrecognizable Wesley Snipes, Cut Throat City has some impressive names in the marquis to help market the film. Ultimately, however, the success of Cut Throat lies at the feet of its young four stars, especially that of relative newcomer Shameik Moore who shines. As Blink, Moore carries much of the emotional weight of the film on his shoulders and he rises to the occasion in his performance.
What’s more, while RZA has spent the majority of his career in front of the camera, he shows some particularly confident work in the director’s chair here by letting his cast take the stage. With a film this gritty and unrelenting, the temptation would be to portray the rage-fueled culture by highlighting the violence onscreen. However, rather than overwhelm the audience with over-the-top action pieces, RZA’s mostly economical use of the camera allows the characters to step out in front, leading to more effective story-telling overall.
Feeding the drama of Cut Throat is its poignant story about the underlying effects of Hurricane Katrina on the population of New Orleans. Like the people within its borders, New Orleans was (and is) a city that has never recovered from the devastating effects of the infamous hurricane. Although the US government pledged help to those who were suffering as a result of the disaster, their efforts simply were not enough to prevent the criminal underworld from taking hold of the decimation. Caught between lack of jobs and bureaucratic red tape, low income survivors such as Blink found themselves torn between criminal activity and starving to death. While characters yearn for the ‘new New Orleans’ like some renewed vision of the American Dream, the reality for families in the Lower Ninth district is that that many of them felt abandoned by a government that remained too far removed from the situation to make any real difference. As a result, while Blink may have turned to a life of criminal activity, Cut Throat also views his journey with eyes of sympathy and grace.
With that in mind, there is a potentially redemptive storyline within Cut Throat that highlights the value of young men like Blink. Viewed as a ‘good young man’, there are many who reach out to help him, despite the overwhelming odds against him. Even so, despite the value that others see in him, the most heart-wrenching aspect of the film is that it recognizes the difficulty of breaking out of the cycle of violence, especially when the system itself remains unchanged. In this way, Cut Throat acknowledges that the systems set up to help often reinforce the very problems they seek to eliminate. While organizations such as FEMA were created to offer help to the people suffering on the ground, they also often make things more difficult for the population along the way. Fighting to break free from an unjust system, Blink’s tragic journey becomes an example of the plight of so many who remain affected by not only Katrina but any widespread social trauma.
Though Cut Throat City isn’t a film that you’ll likely hear about in wide release, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth your time. By taking us into the vicious underworld of New Orleans, RZA also spins a narrative that feels important. By calling for justice in the midst of social pain, Cut Throat City serves as a reminder that, sometimes, hope simply feels unreachable in the face of a cruel system.
Cut Throat City is available on demand.