Dead Presidents

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Dead Presidents
Dead presidents.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Albert Hughes
Allen Hughes
Produced by Albert Hughes
Allen Hughes
Written by Hughes brothers
Michael Henry Brown
Starring Larenz Tate
Keith David
Chris Tucker
N'Bushe Wright
Freddy Rodriguez
Bokeem Woodbine
Music by Danny Elfman
Cinematography Lisa Rinzler
Edited by Dan Lebental
Hollywood Pictures
Caravan Pictures
Underworld Entertainment
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
Release dates
  • October 6, 1995 (1995-10-06)
Running time
119 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $10 million
Box office $24,147,179 (domestically)[1]

Dead Presidents is a 1995 American crime film co-written by Michael Henry Brown, and the Hughes brothers, Albert and Allen, who also produced and directed the film. It stars Larenz Tate, Keith David, Chris Tucker, Freddy Rodriguez, N'Bushe Wright, and Bokeem Woodbine. The film chronicles the life of Anthony Curtis, focusing on his teenage years as a high school graduate and his experiences during the Vietnam War. As he returns to his hometown in The Bronx, Curtis finds himself struggling to support himself and his family, eventually turning to a life of crime.

Dead Presidents is based partly on the real-life experiences of Haywood T. Kirkland, whose true story was detailed in the book Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans by Wallace Terry. Certain characters from the film are based on real acquaintances of Kirkland, who served time in prison after committing robbery in facepaint.[2]


In the spring of 1969, Anthony Curtis (Larenz Tate) is about to graduate from high school. Anthony is not going to college, and needing to get away from home to find himself, he enlists in the U.S. Marine Corps shortly after graduation. He is sent to Vietnam, leaving behind his middle-class family, a pregnant girlfriend (Rose Jackson), and small time crook Kirby (Keith David), who is like a second father.

Anthony's close friend Skip (Chris Tucker) later joins Curtis's squad after flunking out of college, and Jose (Freddy Rodriguez) is drafted into the Army. Once in the Marines, Curtis meets gung-ho lieutenant Dugan (Jaimz Woolvett), and his wartime friend, Cleon (Bokeem Woodbine), a religious yet deadly staff sergeant. During their tour in Vietnam as members of a Force Recon unit, they experience the horrors of war, losing several fellow Marines during combat. The Marines (especially Cleon) also commit atrocities, including executing enemy prisoners and beheading corpses for war trophies.

One of their squad, D'Ambrosio (Michael Imperioli), is the victim of the North Vietnamese, and is disemboweled and castrated. While waiting for medivac, Anthony, succumbing to the request of the dying D'Ambrosio, gives the man a fatal dose of morphine. One of their squad is killed by stepping on a land mine and a night ambush ensues, with NVA troops and half of Anthony's team killed; Dugan is killed after Skip "freezes up" during the gunfight when he is ordered to cover him. Cleon manages to hold off the enemy long enough for Anthony and the last of the crew to withdraw.

When Anthony returns to The Bronx in 1973, after four years of service and presumably multiple combat tours in Vietnam, attaining the rank of sergeant, he finds returning to "normal" life is impossible. He finds his friend Skip, who used drugs during the war, is now a heroin addict. Jose, after serving as a demolitions expert, during which he lost his hand, has become a pyromaniac. Cleon is now a devoted minister.

Kirby has since become legitimate due to police cracking down on his criminal business. Anthony is laid off from his job in a butcher shop and finds himself unable to support his daughter. During a pool game at Kirby's, Cowboy (Terrence Howard), an old rival of his, makes fun of Anthony and informs him that Cutty (Clifton Powell) was having sex with his girlfriend Juanita while he was deployed in Vietnam. Anthony then beats Cowboy with a pool stick out of rage. Cutty knocked Anthony out and pointed a gun in Anthony's face before seeing Juanita, Anthony pesters Juanita into admitting to sleeping with Cutty to provide for their daughter. Anthony meets his girlfriend's sister Delilah (N'Bushe Wright), who is now a member of the "Nat Turner Cadre", a fictional group similar to the Black Panthers. Delilah has always had a crush on Anthony and decides to help him with a plot he devises to rob. Anthony, Kirby, Skip, Jose, Delilah and Cleon plan to rob an armored car making a stop at the Noble Street Federal Reserve Bank of the Bronx.

Skip and Cleon act as lookouts, Kirby is the getaway driver, Delilah waits in a dumpster across the street, and Anthony and Jose hide under the loading docks, all armed. Though they plan the heist very carefully, it goes horribly wrong when a policeman stumbles on the scene. The policeman interferes, talking to Cleon. Cleon says he is waiting for a city bus. The officer thinks it's odd since it is way too early for any buses coming and decides to check the bus schedule for Cleon. Anthony and Jose decide to ambush the armed guards. But the driver sees the two coming out armed, from his rear-view mirror.

As soon as he alerts his fellow officers, Anthony holds one officer at gunpoint, while Jose grabs one bag stack with money and officers begin shooting at Jose. Jose hides behind cover. Another officer is about to shoot Anthony, but Delilah hops out of the dumpster and screams while she shoots the officer dead. This distracting Anthony, the officer tries to knock the shotgun out of Anthony's hands. They struggle for the gun, and Anthony headbutts the officer and pistol whips him, wounding him severely.

The officer talking to Cleon, hears all the commotion and takes out his gun. This results in Kirby hopping out the car and shooting at the officer, but, Kirby is shot in the arm, and Skip comes up behind the officer and shoots him in the head, killing him. Jose quickly grabs a detonator, an explosive device, and hops on the moving truck, with the driver trying to leave the scene. Kirby gets in his car and blocks the truck's entry. Kirby quickly hops out the car and runs as Jose places the explosive device in the back of the van. Jose jumps off and the truck driver slams into Kirby's car and Jose detonates the bomb, blowing up the truck, killing the driver and burning much of the cash.

The explosion attracts more officers and as one is about to shoot Anthony, Delilah shoots and misses him and the officer shoots her dead. In a fury of rage, Anthony shoots him in the leg and then beats to death the officer that he had pistol whipped earlier when he revives and reaches for his gun. The remaining crew splits up, as Jose runs in an alleyway with the cash, a police cruiser chases him. Jose kills the driver, but the officer in the passenger seat uses the dead officer to drive Jose into a brick wall killing him.

Anthony decides that Jose's cut goes to his wife Marisol and their kids and Delilah's cut goes to the poor children on Christmas. Word gets back to Kirby that Cleon is handing out $100 bills to his congregation and bought himself a new Cadillac that he couldn't afford. Kirby wants to kill Cleon before he gets arrested and rats them out. Anthony, who wants no more bloodshed, tells Kirby he'll take care of it, but as he goes to Cleon's church, he sees Cleon being led out the front door in handcuffs by two plainclothes detectives. Cleon gives up the other thieves as part of a plea bargain. NYPD officers storm Skip's apartment only to find that he has died of a heroin overdose. As Kirby and Anthony prepare to leave the country, police show up. Kirby tells Anthony to run, fighting off the officers with the pool sticks, but Anthony is cornered at the other end of the building and he surrenders.

In court, Anthony is tried, convicted, and sent to prison for 15 years to life. His lawyer defends Anthony stating that he was a Vietnam War veteran who earned a Silver Star. The judge (Martin Sheen) scoffs at this as he was a war veteran himself who earned a Purple Heart from serving in World War 2 and goes so far as to call Anthony a disgrace to any person who put on uniform and served his country. Upon receiving his sentence, Anthony gets angry and throws a chair at the judge. The films ends with Anthony looking out the window of a moving prison bus and reflecting on what could've been.


The film depicts the struggle of returning war veterans who are neglected by the US government. Many veterans of the Vietnam War were denied benefits, compensation, and recognition for their efforts in serving their country.[3]


Actor Role
Larenz Tate Anthony Curtis
Keith David Kirby
Chris Tucker Skip
Bokeem Woodbine Cleon
Freddy Rodríguez Jose
Rose Jackson Juanita Benson
N'Bushe Wright Delilah Benson
Alvaleta Guess Mrs. Benson
James Pickens Jr. Mr. Curtis
Jenifer Lewis Mrs. Curtis
Clifton Powell Cutty
Elizabeth Rodriguez Marisol
Terrence Howard Cowboy
Jaimz Woolvett Dugan
Ryan Williams Young Revolutionary
Larry McCoy Nicky
Rodney Winfield Mr. Warren
Martin Sheen Judge


Dead Presidents received mixed reviews from critics. Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 45% of critics gave the film a "fresh" rating, based on 31 reviews with an average score of 5.7/10.[4]

Todd McCarthy of Variety gave the film a positive review stating, "In all respects an extremely ambitious follow-up to their crackling debut, Menace II Society, the Hughes Brothers' mordant Dead Presidents may eventually box itself into a narrative dead end, but its muscular engagement of weighty themes and explosive situations makes it a powerful drama."[5] Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times called the film "both expected and surprising, familiar and yet somehow different. Made with fluid skill and a passion for storytelling, its tale of how the Vietnam War and American society affect a black Marine remains accessible while confounding expectations."[6]

Caryn James of The New York Times felt the film "takes on much more than it can handle." Comparing the film with the Hughes Brother's previous film James said, "The Hugheses obviously knew the world and generation of Menace II Society better than the past of Dead Presidents, but that is only part of the problem. In Menace they trusted the audience more, immersing them in a violent world the film explained without condoning."[7] Similarly, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times explained that the directing duo "have a sure sense of the camera, of actors, of the life within a scene. But they are not as sure when it comes to story and meaning, and here is a film that feels incomplete, as if its last step is into thin air. Scene by scene you feel its skill, but you leave the theater wondering about the meaning of it all."[8]


Year Album Peak chart positions Certifications
U.S. U.S. R&B
1995 Dead Presidents
  • Released: September 26, 1995
  • Label: Capitol
14 1
  • US: Gold
1996 Dead Presidents, Vol. 2
  • Released: April 2, 1996
  • Label: Capitol


  1. ^ "Photo Galleries". USA Today. 
  2. ^ "'Dead Presidents' Precedent: The Heist Is Only Half of the Story, Says the Man Who Pulled It Off."
  3. ^ Evans-Pfeifer, Kelly. American Veterans. Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. 1996.
  4. ^ "Dead Presidents". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved November 23, 2013. 
  5. ^ McCarthy, Todd (October 2, 1995). "Review: ‘Dead Presidents’". Variety (Penske Media Corporation). Retrieved November 23, 2013. 
  6. ^ Turan, Kenneth (October 4, 1995). "MOVIE REVIEW : A Bronx Tale Written in Vietnam : 'Dead Presidents' Is an Unsettling Tale of a Black Marine Who Returns From the War and Finds His Home and Himself Forever Changed". Los Angeles Times (Tribune Company). Retrieved November 23, 2013. 
  7. ^ James, Caryn (September 29, 1995). "Dead Presidents (1995) FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW; The Evolution of a Very Confused Young Man". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved November 23, 2013. 
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 4, 1995). "Dead Presidents Movie Review". Chicago Sun-Times. Sun-Times Media Group. Retrieved November 23, 2013. 

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