A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Few positive messages as the story centers around Vietnam veterans who struggle to reintegrate into society and subsequently turn to crime and drugs.
Positive Role Models
The movie is the tragic tale of a Vietnam veteran who struggles as a result of his experiences during the war when he returns home. The main characters are criminals, but still show compassion and loyalty to one another. Anthony's traumatizing experiences during the war lead to subsequent antisocial behavior. Anthony's parents and brother are law-abiding and supportive.
The majority of the cast are Black and male, with some supporting roles for other ethnicities and women -- although the latter tend to be underused. There is some discussion of politics and race as it relates to the Vietnam War. There is also some discussion of mental health and portrayal of post-traumatic stress, but the social norms of the movie's 1960s and 1970s setting means it is limited. The directors of the film are twin brothers who are the sons of an African American father and an Armenian American mother.
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Violence & Scariness
Character pulls a knife and cuts someone's face. Another is beaten bloody with a pool cue. Scuffles. Character thrown through a window, punched, and kicked while on the ground. Characters threatened with guns. Man punches a woman to the floor. Wartime battles with artillery and explosions. Bloody injury and death. Character beheaded with a machete. The head is then carried as a memento. Graphic close-ups of its decomposing state. Another character is disemboweled with their genitals chopped off and placed in their mouth. Character headbutted, blood spray from broken nose. Traumatic nightmares and flashbacks feature bloody injury and death.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Character bears their backside during an argument. Someone is shown in underwear when getting changed. References to having sex. Kissing. Character dances in their nightwear. Sex under covers, partial nudity shown, including topless male nudity. A character propositions some sex workers.
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Language used includes "f--k," "motherf---ing," "s--t," "p---y," "c--ksucker," "bastard," "idiot," "damn," "ass," and the "N" word. "Dinks" and "gooks" also used as racial slurs.
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Products & Purchases
Characters steal, work cash-in-hand, run illegal gambling operations, play pool for money. Some wear flamboyant jewelry and clothing. Soldiers steal from dead bodies. A bank heist is central to the movie's plot and the movie's title is a slang term for dollar bills. Character pressured to earn more money.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Characters drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes socially. They also smoke marijuana at a party. Someone vomits from drinking too much. Deliberate and accidental heroin overdoses -- a character is showing injecting the drug. Character offered speed recreationally. Another is criticized for drinking too much. References to drink and drugs in songs in the soundtrack.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Dead Presidents is a crime drama about a Vietnam veteran's experiences during and after the war with strong language, violence, and drugs. Having returned from the Vietnam War traumatized, discontented, and needing to support his family, veteran Anthony Curtis (Larenz Tate) turns to a life of crime. Although he is not a positive role model, he and other supporting characters are sympathetic, such as his partner Juanita (Rose Jackson), although she too has her flaws. Violence is frequent, often bloody and in the case of the wartime violence, graphic and gory. This includes a beheading and a character having his genitals cut off and placed in their mouth. There is near constant strong language including variants of "f--k," "c--ksucker," and racial slurs such as the "N" word and "gooks." The movie touches on PTSD and mental health, although true to the era depicted these discussions are limited. There are several scenes of drug abuse by characters who are both traumatized and addicted. Drugs used include heroin, marijuana, and speed. Smoking and drinking are also depicted, in one case the latter being to excess. Sex features less regularly, although it is discussed and in one scene shown. But it's without graphic nudity and is also played partly for comic effect. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Sibling directors the Hughes brothers' ambitious follow-up to Menace II Society attempts to show the ripple effect of the damage done by the Vietnam War. In Dead Presidents, young veteran Anthony Curtis emerges from the war traumatized, desensitized, and unable to cope in the world he finds upon his return home. The movie's opening stages, where Anthony flirts with a life of crime then hankers to join the war effort, are among its strongest. Tate puts in a well-measured performance, slowly showing Anthony's innocence starting to fade, before his tours of service in Vietnam burn permanent damage onto his psyche.
However, during the latter stages the script tries to do too much. Anthony's financial troubles, domestic strife, and worsening mental health are squeezed into its final segment, alongside the deterioration of his friend and fellow marine, Skip (Chris Tucker). Movies such as Judas and the Black Messiah go narrower and deeper into the societal issues of the 1960s and 1970s, to better effect. They also don't waste the opportunity to develop their interesting female characters, which Dead Presidents never manages to fully bring to life. But like the iconic black and white face paint of its bank robbers, this movie endures, as flawed and multi-faceted as the period it tries to reflect.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.