Dead Presidents

Dead Presidents

This article is about the American action film. For the American hip hop group, see Dead Prez. For the Jay-Z song, see "Dead Presidents (song)".

Dead Presidents is a 1995 crime drama film written and directed by the Hughes Brothers (Albert and Allen Hughes), and stars Larenz Tate, Keith David, Chris Tucker, Freddy Rodriguez, N'Bushe Wright and Bokeem Woodbine.

Dead Presidents is based partly on the real life experiences of Haywood T. Kirkland, whose true story was detailed in the book Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans by Wallace Terry. Certain characters from the film are based on real acquaintances of Kirkland, who served time in prison after committing robbery in facepaint. Haywood eventually changed his name to Ari Sesu Merretazon and was released from prison for good behavior and contributing to the prison community.


Dead Presidents opens in the spring of 1969, as Anthony (Larenz Tate) is about to graduate from high school. Not wanting to go to college, but needing to get away from home to find himself, he enlists in the U.S. Marine Corps shortly after graduating high school. He is sent to Vietnam, leaving behind a middle-class family, a pregnant girlfriend (Rose Jackson), and a small time crook, Kirby (Keith David), who is like a second father.

Drafted into the military are two of his close friends, Skip (Chris Tucker) and Jose (Freddy Rodriguez). He also meets the gung ho lieutenant, Dugan (Jaimz Woolvett) and his wartime friend, Cleon (Bokeem Woodbine), a religious yet deadly staff sergeant. During their tour in Vietnam as members of a Force Recon unit, they experience the horror of war, losing several fellow Marines during combat. The Marines (specifically, Cleon) also commit atrocities, including executing enemy prisoners and beheading corpses for war trophies. One of their squad is the victim of terror tactics of the North Vietnamese; D'ambrosio (Michael Imperioli) is disemboweled and castrated alive. While waiting for medevac, Anthony, succumbing to the request of the dying D'ambrosio, gives the man a fatal dose of morphine. One of their squad is killed by stepping on a land mine and a night ambush ensues with NVA troops and half of Anthony's team is killed; Dugan is killed after Skip "freezes up" during the gunfight when he is ordered to cover him. Cleon manages to hold off the enemy long enough for Anthony and the last of the crew to escape.

When Anthony finally comes back to the Bronx in 1973, after two tours of duty and attaining the rank of sergeant, he discovers that returning to "normal" life isn't easy or pleasant. He finds his friend Skip, who used drugs during the war, is now a heroin addict. Jose after serving as a demolitions expert, during which he lost his hand, has become a pyromaniac. Cleon is now a devoted minister. And Kirby has since become legitimate due to police cracking down on his criminal business. Anthony is laid off from his job in a butcher shop and finds himself unable to support his daughter. His girlfriend admits to sleeping with another man to provide for her daughter (who may not even be Anthony's). Anthony meets his girlfriend's sister Delilah (a member of the "Nat Turner Cadre", a fictional group similar to black revolutionaries) who always loved Anthony and decides to help him with an idea to get some money. Anthony, Kirby, Skip, Jose, Delilah and Cleon plot to rob an armored car making a stop at the Federal Reserve Bank of Brooklyn.

Skip and Cleon act as lookouts, Kirby is the getaway driver, Delilah waits in a dumpster across the street and Anthony and Jose hide under the loading docks, all armed. Though they plan the heist very carefully, it goes horribly wrong when a policeman stumbles on the scene. The policeman interferes resulting in Kirby attacking him only to be shot in the arm and Skip shooting him in the head. The security guards engage the robbers in a gunfight, ending with Anthony and Delilah killing most and Delilah dying while saving Anthony as the truck leaves. After Kirby tries to block the truck with his car, Jose makes use of an excessive amount of explosives, destroying the armored car and burning most of the cash. They escape with what money is left, but Jose is killed after being struck by a police car.

The following year, The surviving four try to lay low after the robbery. Cleon doesn't do so as he begins handing out cash to the churchgoers and buying a new Cadillac car which he obviously can't afford. Anthony and Skip give out presents to poor children on Christmas. Cleon is finally arrested at his church and gives up the other thieves. NYPD storm Skip's apartment to find that he has died of a heroin overdose. As Kirby and Anthony prepare to leave the country, they are attacked at Kirby's pool hall by the police and arrested. Anthony is tried, convicted, and sent to prison for 15 years to life; he berates the judge (Martin Sheen), who also goes so far to call him a disgrace to any person who put on a uniform and served his country, before being taken away as he stated how he served his country. The last scene shows him on a bus headed for prison.


The film depicts the struggle of returning war veterans who are neglected by the US government. Many veterans of the Vietnam War were denied benefits, compensation, and recognition for their efforts in serving their country. Anthony is no exception; upon his arrival in The Bronx he is unable to find gainful employment to support his daughter, born while he was on tour in Vietnam. His friend Kirby, a Korean War veteran (who lost a leg during combat), is the main character's inspiration to join the military, yet he too has become a low-level neighborhood enforcer, a man who turned to crime to sustain a living.


Actor Role
Larenz Tate Anthony Curtis
Keith David Kirby
Chris Tucker Skip
Bokeem Woodbine Cleon
Freddy Rodríguez Jose
Rose Jackson Juanita Benson
N'Bushe Wright Delilah Benson
Alvaleta Guess Mrs. Benson
James Pickens Jr. Mr. Curtis
Jenifer Lewis Mrs. Curtis
Clifton Powell Cutty
Elizabeth Rodriguez Marisol
Terrence Howard Cowboy
Ryan Williams Young Revolutionary
Larry McCoy Nicky
Rodney Winfield Mr. Warren

Soundtrack listings

Vol. I

  1. "If You Want Me To Stay", by Sly & The Family Stone
  2. "Walk On By", by Isaac Hayes
  3. "The Payback", by James Brown
  4. "I'll Be Around", by The Spinners
  5. "Never Never Gonna Give You Up", by Barry White
  6. "I Miss You", by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
  7. "Get Up & Get Down", by The Dramatics
  8. "(Don't Worry) If There's a Hell Below, We're All Going to Go", by Curtis Mayfield
  9. "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man", by Aretha Franklin
  10. "Where Is The Love", by Jesse & Trina
  11. "Tired Of Being Alone", by Al Green
  12. "Love Train" by The O'Jays
  13. "The Look Of Love", by Isaac Hayes
  14. "Dead Presidents Theme", by Danny Elfman

Vol. II

  1. "I Got the Feelin'", by James Brown
  2. Keep on Pushin'", by the Impressions
  3. "Smiling Faces Sometimes", by the Undisputed Truth
  4. "Right on for the Darkness", by Curtis Mayfield
  5. "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)", by the Temptations
  6. "Cowboys to Girls", by the Intruders
  7. "Never Gonna Give You Up, by Jerry Butler
  8. "I Was Made to Love Her'', by Stevie Wonder
  9. "(Man Oh Man) I Want to Go Back", by the Impressions
  10. "When Something Is Wrong with My Baby", by Sam & Dave
  11. "We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue", by Curtis Mayfield
  12. "Ain't That a Groove", by James Brown


  • A fourteen minute suite of Danny Elfman's score can be found on his Music for a Darkened Theatre Volume 2 compilation.

Later Samples



External links

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