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This action film, directed by the Hughes brothers, depicts a heist of old bills, retired from circulation and destined by the government to be "money to burn." However, more broadly, it addresses the issues of Black Americans' involvement in the Vietnam War and their subsequent disillusionment with progress in social issues and civil rights back home in the United States, during the 1960's. Written by
Tad Dibbern <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>
Though not specifically stated, Curtis, Cleon and Skip belonged to a unit in the 1st Marine Recon Battalion. This is confirmed late in the movie when Cleon is seen wearing a patch with the 1st Marine Recon Battalion insignia on it. See more »
A 1973-1975 Ford F-350 Utility Truck can be seen in the background of the Spring 1969 scenes. See more »
[at the table, dividing up a huge stack of bills after the big score]
Man, one thing I can't figure out. People be out of work everywhere and the government just be throwing money away!
That's Uncle Sam for you, son. Money to burn.
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I thought I had seen one of the most intense horror films ever when I saw the Hughes Brothers' debut "Menace II Society" (yes, I do mean 'horror' in the figurative sense). Then I saw "Dead Presidents," and I saw they took it up a notch. This film is set in Harlem in the mid 60's, a young man named Anthony Curtis, who's unsure of what to do with this life after high school and is not really interested in the usual route of college. He decides to enlist in the Marine Corps and no doubt ends up in Vietnam, in a special armed forces unit. Although he makes it out alive unscratched after four years of service, he returns home to find himself, his Marine buddies and their families - including his own new growing family - ravaged physically, emotionally, psychologically and economically by the war. When things seem to really go bleak, Anthony and his friends decide to rob an armored bank truck to get themselves back on track.
"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.
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