Dead Presidents (1995)
User ReviewsReview this title
Set in the late 60s and early 70s, the plotline of "Dead Presidents" follows a promising and popular inner-city high school graduate, Anthony Curtis (Larenz Tate), who decides to forego college and enter the Vietnam War as a member of the Marine Corps. Anthony survives a graphic and arduous three-plus-year stint in the jungle, but upon his homecoming, he realizes that the "real world" can be just as trying as war. His low-paying job provides little support for his new family and he becomes desperate to make ends meet. He enlists the help of some old friends and plans a daring armored car heist which, if successful, could serve to amend his past and brighten his future...
The first seventy-five minutes of this movie were really well done. Character traits and relationships were well-established and the mood was properly set as suspense built for the anticipated war scenes--a perfect "epic-caliber" introduction.
But instead of continuing with a detailed flow, the directing crew tried to cram about ninety minutes worth of material into the final forty-five minutes, and consequently did not leave themselves enough time to totally develop any strong climactic progression or aptly characterize any of the cast members into their sudden postwar "criminal complex." Thus, the "heist scene," which based on advertising was probably supposed to be one of the more memorable and authoritative parts of the film, seemed to be almost too "spur-of-the-moment" and lacked motivation and definition.
All in all, the film's running time, which was approximately 119 minutes, was simply far too short for the storyline. The postwar segment of the film (the last forty-five minutes) was indeed key in separating a decent movie like "Dead Presidents" from a epic masterpiece like "The Deer Hunter."
Besides the first seventy-five minutes, a couple of notably good performances given by Chris Tucker as Skip (Anthony's best friend) and Rose Jackson as Juanita (Anthony's girlfriend) do make "Dead Presidents" a movie worth seeing at least once. That said, I would warn not to create a preconception based on the title, tagline or any publicity images that you might have seen, because they apply only to a small portion of the action.
I give Dead Presidents high marks for casting and acting. Larenz Tate, Chris Tucker, and the rest did a fabulous job. I also like the war scenes--very gripping, very scary.
The problem that I have with the movie is that it spans too many genres and as a result, just seems to drag on and on. The tag line would make you believe that this is a cops and robbers film centered around a major heist. But that is terribly misleading. The heist doesn't happen and isn't even an issue until late in the film. Up to that point you could consider this a life in the ghetto movie, trying to escape the ghetto movie, a Viet Nam war movie, a what life was like for blacks in the late 60's early 70's movie, a what the Viet Nam war did to those who survived it movie, so on and so on. By the time it came around for the big robbery, I was wondering when this movie would end. This problem of too grand a scope keeps the movie from getting an A.
That's Uncle Sam for you! Mean Green.
The pic very much harks back to the glory days of film noir in the 40s and 50s, where some talented film makers began to tell stories of returning war veterans finding what they left behind is now alien to them - with some characters, as is the case here - deeply scarred by their experiences. Add in some gangster elements and the coup de grâce that is the scintillating heist, and clearly the brothers have seen many an old classic film. That the narrative is tried and tested stops the piece hitting greater heights, this in spite of some super acting (especially Tate and the always value for money Keith David) and the hard hitting violence that pierces the senses. Predictable yet potent, and certainly memorable, it's well worth a look for the tough of mind and the classic era film of heart. 7/10
This is an extremely well made movie that really shows the reality of how hard the world can be for some people.
I advice everybody to go out and pick up this movie, because it is a story that you got to hear.
Many have taken note of co-directing team Allen and Albert Hughes' referencing to their cinema heroes like Martin Scorsese and the bloody gangster classic "Scarface." Indeed, observant viewers will note the explicit bloodshed that's prevalent in "Dead Presidents" as being homage to the graphic gangster pictures of yesteryear, and that doesn't make it bad.
"Presidents" takes a look at the role that the color green played in the lives young black men before and after Vietnam. In fact, on the killing fields of good old 'Nam, mankind is seen at its absolute lowest, where soldiers on both sides of the conflict commit horrific atrocities, including a scene where a black soldier decapitates a (dead) Viet Cong and keeps the head for good luck, or when an American soldier is gutted and castrated.
Obviously, the Hughes Brothers have some real big qualms about black mens' involvement in that conflict, and the film's central character, Anthony Curtis (Larenz Tate), finds little prospects awaiting him in the Bronx after doing two tours in Vietnam.
Before he left, however, he'd impregnated his girlfriend Juanita (Rose Jackson) and while in country, he doesn't permit himself to think of what he's left behind in America. So when Anthony's forced to leave his low-paying job as a meat cutter, it's not a surprise that he's already begun plans to knock off an armored truck to get some "dead presidents," which is street slang for dollar bills.
So, together with his two involuntarily enlisted Vietnam buddies Skip (Chris Tucker) and Jose (Freddy Rodriguez), Anthony's Uncle Kirby (Keith David), Juanita's radicalized sister Delilah (N'Bushe Wright) and Cleon (Bokeem Woodbine), they proceed to knock over the truck and make way with its valuable assets.
The film is most definitely a gritty look at the "black experience" during the Civil Rights era and the Hughes Brothers certainly pay a lot more attention to the details of the picture. It's not better than "Menace," but is certainly better-made, now that they have been given a more reasonable budget.
Sifting through the comments for "Dead Presidents," I was starting to think I saw a different movie than everyone else until I found one other person who thought it was slow and directionless. Thank God for that guy.
The Hughes brothers had a great concept in depicting Vietnam and life afterwards from a black soldier's perspective. A much needed perspective, since countless movies have showed things from the white POV. Problem is, the Hughes brothers took this concept and sucked the life out of it with sloooow pacing and an unfocused script.
I'll say this: The directors have a knack for framing interesting shots, and when they do make a point, it resonates. It's just that their points would have been so much sharper if they didn't take forever getting to them. We've all listened to someone tell a story that should be interesting but isn't because they kill it with a sleepy pace, boring sidenotes and irrelevant details. That's what happens here.
A movie is kind of like a bank robbery. It might sound like a great idea, but if you botch the execution, it all goes to hell. Sadly, in "Dead Presidents," art imitates itself.
"Dead Presidents" confirms the suspicions that were aroused by "Menace" that the Hughes Brothers are without question going to become master filmmakers. There is an obvious graduation in their skills here, look at the brilliant way they segue into Vietnam by showing Anthony hop over backyard fences with dogs barking in the background that suddenly fade into shotgun blasts and officer commands, then with one pass over another fence Anthony is suddenly is Vietnam blasting his shotgun. Be warned, the Vietnam sequence in the film contains the most grotesque war scenes ever filmed (much more brief in length than "Saving Private Ryan" but just as intense).
Larenz Tate gives a strong performance as a man with a do-good heart but a warped mind that's been tarnished by war. Keith David is also skilled as Kirby, the neighborhood elder who serves as Anthony's mentor. N'Bushe Wright is miscast as a Black militant activist who entices Anthony towards the heist, she's a really bad actress and the Hughes Brothers were smart for cutting her screen time. "Dead Presidents" speaks volume about Black Americans' involvement in Vietnam and the consequences they suffered for doing so. Not a happy film, but an honest and skillful one.
Tate does a great job in the lead role. First time i saw this guy and i'm surprised he never became a bigger star. Very likable screen persona. David Keith is sensational as Kirby, the one-legged and tough as nails goodguy/badguy. Chris Tucker plays his usual character of a loud mouth who thinks he knows everything and is fine too.
DEAD PRESIDENTS was released in 1995 with a fair amount of hype . Directed by the Hughes brothers it was marketed as a film that marketed the black experience of coming home after Vietnam . One can understand why the film was marketed this way since the Hughes did make the critically acclaimed MENACE II SOCIETY , part of a short lived but acclaimed " Ghetto subgenre " in the early 1990s . DEAD PRESIDENTS might try to fit in to this type of genre but what ever type of movie it's trying to be it fails because there's an obvious flaw - there's not one single likable character in the movie
If the Hughes brothers had been white I'm sure they'd have been accused of playing up to ethnic stereotypes or at the very least making a blacksplotation movie twenty years too late . The film starts with some foul mouthed characters lamenting the lack of sex in their lives and goes downhill from there . The film then cuts to Vietnam and if Anthnoy ( And the audience ) thought the ghetto was bad then Vietnam is a lot worse . The war scenes are genuinely disturbing and violent but again this seems very old hat when we'd already had a glut of anti-war films featuring the 'Nam ten years earlier and most of them making an anti-war point much better too . When Anthony returns to America he gets involved in a robbery that makes the Vietnam war look like an episode of TELETUBBIES
This is a muddled , unfocused violent film that becomes more and more depressing as it goes along . If the Hughes are making a comment that returning soldiers from conflicts regardless of their colour are callously ignored by the country they fought to defend then they have failed . There's little incitement for the characters to become the violent ruthless criminals they are . Just because an educated college boy fought in a war zone it never seems a convincing character motivation to become a criminal , and the robbery itself on an armoured car is done so graphically and violently is enough to evaporate any potential sympathy one might have had at Anthony's plight
Despite being a competently made film , the editing is very good for example , DEAD PRESIDENTS is a classic example of a film having to elicit empathy from the audience and if it fails to do this then the entire film fails
Another great performance was had by Keith David, of Platoon fame who played the worldly and elder part to-a-T. And not to mention Larenz Tate, whose boyishly-looking features cleanly established the groundwork in the development of the story. And although a lot of profanity was employed in this movie, it does capture the gravity of what the story hoped to convey.
The movie is so vivid and compelling, I believe that this account was based on reality, than that of imagination or fiction. Kudos to the Hughes bros. who've once again given us yet another thought provoking glimpse of life from another perspective.
Wishful thinking: Beginning with the lives of the principal actors when they first met as children.
Memorable movie quote: "Fuck you, man. It stinks like a sack full of assholes!"
6.5 out of 10
The plot was predictable and with so many short scenes there was little time for atmosphere which left the funk and soul heavy sound track to work overtime. I would align this film with Forest Gump in its attempts to show a young man growing up. Weaving adolescence, romance, violence and adventure into the story. This is the most slight reference since the two films qualities are markedly different.
Not a single character in Dead Presidents incites any reaction from the audience. The scripts plausibility is questionable in many places, chasms of time are treated as though they have been emotionally filled in. Characters act out their two dimensional emotions towards these situations to move seamlessly onwards.
If you feel sympathy for the lead character to begin with once it is revealed he comes from a loving supportive family this is quashed. I don't think you can identify with a character who throws away so much due to arrogance and selfish pride. So if this is the case what where the directors trying to say about this mans life? Nothing in the film allowed us to be enlightened.
I wouldn't recommend this film but then I like films which have a depth and are written in a more considered way.
The Hughes brothers should be applauded for managing to steer themselves successfully away from ghetto movies (look what happened to John Singleton). This was a small step away (although From Hell was a big leap) and it tries to deal with the black experience around Vietnam. A worthy cause but a flawed one none the less. The plot really just wants to get to the last half hour which is the robbery that is displayed on the posters etc. However before that it makes a lot of good points. The problem is that, because it's dealing with an experience the storyline doesn't always seem strong. This means it is a bit episodic.
However these episodes still manage to be pretty good and the Hughes brothers are very good film-makers who can put stuff together well. The robbery is tense and some of the other scenes are very involving. However it still feels like the plot is too loose.
The cast helps greatly and a very famous cast (or at least familiar faces). Larenz Tate is OK but is probably more suited to his more recent romantic leads. Chris Tucker manages not to be totally irritating for once and N'Bushe Wright and Jackson are very good female roles. The cast has a few famous cameos (Washington and Sheen) but also has a host of recognisable faces including Rodriguez, Woodbine, Imperioli (in a small or is that big! - role) many are famous black support actors.
Overall it doesn't quite hang together as the plot is less a story than a view of the black experience around Vietnam and one of the sense of abandonment that they feel. However the film throws up plenty of good bits despite failing to come together as one piece of work.