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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>
An abridged, urbanized version of "The Deer Hunter"
The Hughes Brothers tried to play up the same angle with "Dead Presidents" as Micheal Cimino and Louis Garfinkle did with "The Deer Hunter" by portraying the social effects that the Vietnam war had on its young veterans. And for a while, it seemed as though they were quite successful. But in the end, it became apparent why "The Dead Presidents" fell short of the Academy recognition that "The Deer Hunter" won.
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.
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