The Hughes brother’s follow up to Menace II Society is particularly ambitious, especially considering the twins were only 23 at the time. Dead Presidents was released in 1995 it tells the story of Anthony Curtis who is graduating high school in The Bronx. Curtis (Larenz Tate) joins the Marines and heads off to Vietnam. He leaves behind his family and friends including small time crook Kirby, a one legged veteran played by the always excellent Keith David.
The cast of his unit in Vietnam include Sopranos’ Michael Imperioli, Six Feet Under’s Freddy Rodriguez, Chris Tucker and Bokeem Woodbine, the merciless Cleon, whose character brutally hacks the head off a dead Vietnamese soldier, carrying the trophy around believing it to be a good luck charm.
He returns home after four years of service and finds it difficult adjusting to normal life with a girlfriend and a daughter to support. After losing his job in a butcher shop he hatches a plan to rob an armoured truck with his girlfriend’s sister who is now part of the Black Power movement. He also enlists Kirby and members of his Vietnam unit including Cleon who is now bizarrely a preacher.
The execution of the robbery is the film’s most iconic scene. The characters paint their faces white with black eyes and lips like a negative version of black and white minstrels. I absolutely love this scene it is incredibly tense, explosive and beautifully shot.
The film ticks many boxes for me. The war scenes are fantastic and horrific at the same time and really show Curtis coming of age. The armoured car heist is as good as the robberies in Heat or The Town. The 60s and 70s setting is fantastically realised, you really feel like you are there with the characters and the soundtrack really helps to set the scene. The Hughes brothers have made something really special here. Even Chris Tucker can’t ruin it. Now go watch it.