I didn’t think Cut Throat City would have a twist. Then, suddenly, it did. If you’re reading this, you probably had the same exact questions as me, “Wait, did that FEMA heist actually happen?” And “Did any of it happen?”
The short answer is: no, yes.
The long answer is: The FEMA heist was part of the “Cut Throat City” graphic novel Blink’s working on. But everything else happened.
Let me explain.
The FEMA heist and just how meta CTC is
Leading up to the FEMA heist, our three main characters, Blink (Shameik Moore), Miracle (Demetrius Shipp Jr.), and Junior (Keean Johnson), have all returned home following the post-casino-heist Odyssey that made up a majority of the movie.
Once they’re back home, we spend the most time with Blink—he reconnects with his wife and his art room makes its glorious return. We catch Miracle sleeping in his car. And Junior washing out empty kennels after the unfortunate demise of his dog. Things are arguably worse for these guys than before the casino heist. Begging the questions: what did they really accomplish and did they make the right choice in going back to the 9th Ward?
If you’re kind of half paying attention, you see this montage then the cut to the guys hanging out, drinking, realizing they need to do one more job and rob FEMA. It seems sudden and stupid but also makes sense as none of them have anything. The heist doesn’t go well and we watch as all three fall in a hail of bullets. Then they aren’t dead. It was art?
It can be confusing.
The good news is that RZA includes a visual clue that lets us definitively answer what happened. The bad news is, on first viewing, it’s easy to overlook.
Right before the cut to the “lets rob FEMA scene,” we see Blink working on some art. It’s just a sketch at that point. But we can tell he’s focused and invested. Caught up in the vibe, he finishes a line then throws the pencil over his shoulder so he can grab a different one. There’s a slow-mo shot of the pencil landing on the floor. That’s one bookend.
It’s after the pencil that we get the whole “we need to do one more job” scene, the FEMA heist, and everyone dying.
Then we cut back to Blink further along on his drawing. There’s color now rather than just a sketch. He adds a few lines then throws another pencil over this shoulder, just like before. And just like before, we see the pencil hit the floor in slow-mo. It lands right next to the first one. This is our other bookend.
These visual bookends serve as demarcation points between reality and art. The reality is Blink’s been working on the cover of this graphic novel he calls CTC. Which we know means Cut Throat City and is where the movie title comes from. The whole FEMA heist is nothing more than a scene in CTC. It represents where the story could have gone if Blink and the others lost hope.
But not everything was fiction. That’s why that last conversation between detective Benoit (Eiza González) and Blink is important. Blink thanks her for not “finishing that sketch.” A reference to a threatening quip she made earlier about working on the details of the casino robbery that could lead to Blink’s arrest. That’s how RZA confirms that “Yes, most of what we saw did happen,” without saying it outright.
We are water
The last lines we hear from Blink have to do with water. “You know, water can give life and water can take life. But all water has perfect memory, forever trying to return from where it once came. And that’s home.”
You may notice the connection between what’s said about water and our main characters. Blink, Miracle, and Junior have the capacity to do good things or bad things. Circumstances took them down one path. But they came home and found renewal. So Blink’s essentially saying, “People are water. And people can go down a good path or a bad path.”
How you interpret the “home” part of that quote can vary. What is home? Clearly New Orleans is important to Cut Throat City. Specifically the 9th Ward. So do you read this as being about the location? Or about other things? Like “Home is where family is.” Or “Home is where the heart is,” as in Blink’s heart was in art, not crime, and by giving up art he went on a journey that brought him back to it.
The “right” answer is probably a little bit of everything. This final speech adds a bit of thematic depth to Cut Throat City that can keep you thinking about the movie long after Netflix suggests you watch something else.