Jeffrey's Review of Dead Presidents
Consistently engaging, well acted, and ambitious in its themes, Dead Presidents is a strong and interesting look at the Vietnam War, race in the 60s-70s, and class differences. It features strong performances from its leads, with excellent efforts by Larenz Tate, Keith David, and Chris Tucker (who provides a lot of needed comic relief).
What is most impressive about Dead Presidents is the films world building. The Bronx we see is undeniably authentic, with the film seamlessly transitioning to Vietnam, without missing a beat. When the film transports back, we see the passage of time (a few years), in a very real way. In that sense, the direction is quite strong, with a good build up for most of the film, and an emphasis on the characters.
The script is good from the standpoint that it has sharp dialogue, and doesn't opt for film cliches or really easy stereotypes. Instead, we're treated to an intelligent examination of a lot of themes. This, however, came back to hinder the film in the final act, with an overly rushed heist set-up, with the heist itself seeming tonally inconsistent and implausible. The last third of the film just doesn't seem to be very cohesive, we never fully understand the character motivations, it all seems to happen quickly, in an otherwise patient narrative. It was as if the filmmakers tried to tackle too much ground, and spent too much time focusing on themes and story lines that don't fully pay off, and weren't directly related to the climax.
Despite its weak ending, however, Dead Presidents does more than enough right to make it well worth watching, if not for the strong performances and unique take on Vietnam.