Returning from Vietnam, Anthony finds himself disillusioned by the life he left behind. Desperate to provide for his young family, he turns to crime in an attempt to find a better life.
Dead Presidents may sound like an attempt by Oliver Stone to tell simultaneously the story of Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower and Johnson, but, in fact, turns out to be another entry into the world-consuming genre that is the heist movie. Actually, this second outing from the directors of Menace II Society is half robbery flick and half war film although anyone expecting The Return Of Kelly's Heroes is probably in for a shock.
Kicking off in 1968 we zero in on naive high school kid Anthony Curtis (Tate) who fulfils the film's early coming-of-age feel by being, despite a small flirtation with a local hood (David), pretty much obsessed with sex, sex, cool soul music and sex. Eventually Curtis succeeds in bedding - and impregnating - childhood sweetheart Juanita Benson (Rose Jackson) but subsequently enlists for a tour of Vietnam where he sees most of his mates become either corpses or basket cases.
Returning to something less than a hero's welcome, the now fully trained-up killing machine makes a stab at a normal life with Juanita but finally comes to the decision that stealing a van-load of used currency would be a more profitable use of his time (the title refers to the faces of deceased US leaders found on American dollar bills).
While the final result may occasionally try to cover a hundred topics when perhaps 99 would have sufficed, there is no doubt that Dead Presidents is a very impressive, if often jaw-droppingly violent, piece of work.
More than fulfilling the promise they showed with Menace, the Hughes have created a film which, helped by an outstanding performance from Tate, relates a period of time in suitably epic manner while never losing sight of its screwed up protagonists. The conclusions are relentlessly negative and all the more telling for it.