Cinemalphabet: D is for Dead Presidents (1995)
Dead Presidents should have had a larger impact both commercially and critically. It was the much anticipated sophomore effort by the sublimely talented Hughes Brothers and boasted a cast of strong upstarts and seasoned vets. Unfortunately, positioning the film as a “heist thriller” was a terrible mistake. While the film does contain a heist, – like Set it Off – this is a film about marginalized folks whose options are limited and whose hopes are obliterated.
There’s a compelling story in the first two acts of the film – young black male does everything he’s told to do, goes to war (Vietnam) and comes home to few options. This alone demands nuanced exploration. Yet, the heist takes center stage and overshadows the very raw, devastating story of dreams deferred and opportunities erased. Beautiful performances by Larenz Tate and Chris Tucker. And let’s not forget the phenomenal soundtrack filled with 70s R&B gems of the – No my brother, you’ve got to buy your own variety. It’s unfair to judge the film by its ambitious yet ultimately unsuccessful (from a cinematic standpoint) third act. This is film about the complex and conflicting passions of marginalized folks in a way that’s rarely depicted on screen. It is beautifully rendered with heartbreaking poignancy.