There are a lot of familiar elements in play in "Cut Throat City," a post-Katrina heist film directed by the Wu Tang Clan's RZA. It manages to work for the most part thanks to a strong cast, some good direction from RZA and a script that mixes the action with a bit of social commentary.
"Cut Throat City" tells the story of four friends (Shameik Moore, Demetrius Shipp Jr., Keean Johnson, and Denzel Whitaker) from New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward who seem to have their futures mapped out.
When Hurricane Katrina leaves their neighborhood in ruins the friends turn to a local gangster (rapper T.I., who is outstanding in a small role) who presents them with a chance to make some quick cash. But the heist of a local casino doesn't got as planned, leaving the friends on the run with everyone from the gangster and other criminal element to a determined young cop (Eiza González) trying to track them down.
This is RZA's third film that he has directed and you can see a confident eye behind the camera that understands how to stage the action and has a good eye for pacing. "Cut Throat City" checks off all the boxes you would expect in a heist film, but does it in a way that feels fresh and exciting.
It helps that the audience gets to know these characters with "City" doing a nice job of making the relationship between these four friends feel natural and realistic.
The cast helps to create that realism with Moore and Shipp, Jr. the standouts. There is plenty of support, maybe too much in a film that feels a little overstuffed. In addition to T.I. and González you get Ethan Hawke as a local councilman, Terrence Howard as a criminal known as the Saint, and Wesley Snipes as a father of one of the young men. Hawke, Howard and Snipes are all good, but Snipes character kind of drags down the narrative a bit.
And there lies my small quip with "City," which adds some scenes that could have easily been left on the cutting room floor and overstays it's welcome a bit at the end. Still, there is enough here that if you are a fan of smart heist films you should appreciate what RZA and the cast have done here.