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Dead Presidents stirs emotion on life's uncertainties



Larenz Tates (second from right) stars in Dead Presidents as a man whose life is reduced to shambles after he returns from the war in Vietnam.

Dead Presidents

Directed by Allen and Albert Hughes.

Starring Larenz Tate, Keith David, and Chris Tucker.

Sony Nickelodeon

By Daniel Ramirez

It's 8:00 p.m. on a Tuesday night. While most students were working on problem sets, I was in a private room of the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel. Without warning, in walked two young men, dressed similarly except for their baseball hats. At first glance, you would have seen nothing more than two identical twins. One might even have confused the young men for college students, which they were not. Enter Allen and Albert Hughes, the fraternal twin brothers who made their feature film directing debut at age 20.

In a recent interview with the Hughes Brothers, as they are commonly referred to, I was given the opportunity to gain some extra insight into the brothers and to see why they have become one of Hollywood's hottest commodities.

The Hughes Brothers began their Hollywood career with the critical success Menace II Society. Made for roughly $3 million, the film went on to gross $30 million; but more importantly, not only did it catch the eye of America, it caught the eye of Caravan Pictures. The movie showed that the Hughes Brothers were filmmakers with a distinct point of view and that they had a bright future ahead of them. With the success of Menace II Society, not only did the brothers make a name for themselves, they also earned a deal to direct movies under the Caravan label. Their first project under the label, and only their second major feature, is the highly anticipated Dead Presidents.

The story opens in 1968: Anthony Curtis (Larenz Tate) is a 18-year-old young man, who decides to skip college straight out of high school. He leaves his mentor Kirby (Keith David), his family, and his girlfriend Juanita Benson (Rose Jackson) to enlist in the Marine Corps with his friend Jos (Freddy Rodriguez) in hopes of serving his country proudly and earning some respect. While at war, we learn that Anthony's girlfriend bore his daughter shortly after his departure. With the arrival of his friend Skip (Chris Tucker), who enlisted after flunking out of college, we begin to sense a change in Anthony's world.

Upon Anthony's return home in 1972, it becomes more apparent that the life he once dreamed of is not going to become a reality. Instead of being treated as a hero, he is merely treated as a man without an education. Working part-time at a butcher's shop, Anthony, with his girlfriend, is barely making ends meet in an infested South Bronx apartment. Afforded little respect, and eventually unemployed and desperate, Anthony decides to participate in a heist to acquire some "dead presidents," a slang term for cash. Teamed with his fellow vets, Skip, Jos, and Cleon (Bokeem Woodbine) and Kirby and Juanita's sister Delilah (N'Bushe Wright), Anthony hopes that this one well-executed score will secure a chance at a better life for himself, for his daughter and for the people of his community.

Over the past few years, the Hughes Brothers have been labeled by much of the press as merely "black movie makers directing black subject matter." However, they don't see it like that. "We're guys who are making movies, if you want to consider us black, then we're black. I don't have no problem with that,"Allen said. When asked a question about the responsibilities of African Americans making films pertaining to black subject matter, Albert replied, "I feel, as a black filmmaker making black subject matter, the only responsibility is to the subject matter itself. Not considering any race when making the film, but considering the people that you're portraying; and I don't personally think that anyone white or black should be limited from making movies about other cultures." In their opinion, filmmaking isn't about the race of the director; it's about the views they have to offer.

So what view do the Hughes Brothers offer America? According to Allen, they're "making movies that reflect the unpredictability of life. We throw down a guy's life and we throw the cards of life at him. Wherever the chips may fall, that's how they fall. That's life." Films shouldn't follow a three act structure. Instead, the film should stick to the director's vision.

Although only their second effort, the Hughes Brothers' new film displays their ingenuity and maturity with a well directed and well acted production. From start to finish, the audience is witness to a young man's struggle to define his place amid the chaos of the late 1960s and early 70s. Keith David gives a superb performance as Kirby, an older man who becomes a father figure to Anthony. And following his unforgettably hilarious performance as Smokey in Friday, Chris Tucker adds humor to the film with his character, Skip. Another highlight of the film is the musical score. Composed by Danny Elfman, one of the foremost film composers in the industry, the music incorporates instruments from all over the world to further enhance the Hughes Brothers' story. Color and style are a major part of all movies, and Dead Presidents offers the audience a variety of it.

From the sultry sounds of the 60s and 70s, to the graphic detail of the Vietnam War, Dead Presidents is a film worth watching. It stirs emotions and causes us to think about how unpredictable life really is. Scene for scene, the movie is powerful and well directed. If you want to see a movie that doesn't follow the usual, predictable structure of most films, then watch Dead Presidents.