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
Screenplay by Michael Henry Brown
Story by Hughes brothers
Michael Henry Brown
Starring
Music by Danny Elfman
Cinematography Lisa Rinzler
Edited by Dan Lebental
Production
company
Hollywood Pictures
Caravan Pictures
Underworld Entertainment
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
Release dates
  • October 6, 1995 (1995-10-06)
Running time
119 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $10 million
Box office $24.1 million (domestic)[1]

Dead Presidents is a 1995 American crime thriller 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]

Plot[edit]

In the spring of 1969, Anthony Curtis (Larenz Tate) is about to graduate from high school, and decides to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps rather than go to college. He is sent to Vietnam, leaving behind his middle-class family, his pregnant girlfriend Juanita (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' squad after flunking out of college, and his other friend, Jose (Freddy Rodriguez), is drafted into the Army. Once in the Marines, Curtis and his squad lose several fellow marines during combat, and commit several atrocities of their own, such as executing enemy prisoners and beheading corpses for war trophies.

When Anthony returns to the Bronx in 1973, after four years of service, he finds returning to "normal" life is impossible. He finds Skip is now a heroin addict, Jose is a pyromaniac, and Cleon (Bokeem Woodbine), a religious yet deadly staff sergeant that was in his squad, is now a devoted minister. After being laid off from his job at a butcher shop, Anthony finds himself unable to support Juanita (who had an affair while he was on duty) or his daughter. After an argument with Juanita, Anthony meets his girlfriend's sister, Delilah (N'Bushe Wright), who is now a member of the "Nat Turner Cadre", a revolutionary militant group. Anthony, Kirby, Skip, Jose, Delilah, and Cleon devise a plan to rob an armored car making a stop at the Noble Street Federal Reserve Bank of the Bronx.

The next day, the group strategically position themselves around the street, armed with weapons and disguised with face paint, ready to ambush the truck. The plan goes awry after Anthony and Jose are spotted by the driver, causing a large shootout with the security guards. Jose (a demolition expert in the army) plants an explosive device on the escaping truck to blow off the door, but instead, destroys the whole vehicle. Delilah saves Anthony's life as he is about to be shot by a guard, and gets killed instead, devastating Anthony. As the group collects what cash they can from the burning wreckage, they split up to escape the police, and Jose gets crushed against a wall by a squad car after he shoots the driver.

Not long after the heist, Kirby hears that Cleon has been giving out $100 bills and has bought himself a new Cadillac that he can barely afford. Anthony drives over to Cleon's church to speak to him, only to find him being led out the front door in handcuffs by two 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 flee to Mexico, police raid the bar, surrounding and arresting the pair. Anthony is sentenced to 15 years to life in prison by the judge, himself a World War II veteran. Anthony, furious at his sentence in spite of his years of service for his country, throws a chair at the judge before being escorted away. The films ends with Anthony looking out the window of his prison bus and reflecting on what could've been.

Themes[edit]

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]

Cast[edit]

Actor/Actress 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
Larry McCoy Nicky
Rodney Winfield Mr. Warren
Martin Sheen Judge

Reception[edit]

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]

Soundtracks[edit]

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
45

References[edit]

  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. 

External links[edit]