Film / Dead Presidents
In this daring heist, the only color that counts is green

This action film, directed by the Hughes Brothers, depicts a heist of old bills, retired from circulation and destined by the government to be "money to burn." However, more broadly, it addresses the issues of Black Americans' involvement in the Vietnam War and their subsequent disillusionment with progress in social issues and civil rights back home in the United States, during the 1960's.

Larenz Tate is Anthony Curtis, a good-natured high school kid in 1960s New York who is enjoying life with his girlfriend, Juanita Benson (Rose Jackson) and good friends, Skip (Chris Tucker in an early role) and Jose (Freddy Rodriguez) and running numbers for a local tough guy, Kirby (Keith David). Those days are not to last, however, as all three of the young friends end up in Vietnam. Following a fairly lengthy and well-done segment in the Nam, all three end up back in the old neighborhood, where Anthony finds adjusting to civilian life difficult. Soon (and rather suddenly), the whole bunch of them are planning an armored car heist, with Curtis' girlfriend sister, Delilah (N'Bushe Wright), who also happens to be a radical Black Panther. The heist of course ends up having disastrous consequences.

Film contains examples of

  • Badass Preacher, Cleon during the war. Unfortunately, he turned into a typical born-again Baptist preacher after the war.
    Cleon:[After blasting a Viet Cong in the head, killing him] Now you're good...Now Jesus loves you.
  • Berserk Button: Anthony's is pretty close to the surface following his return from Vietnam, which is partly what gets him into so much trouble.
  • The Caper
  • Chronic Villainy: Poor Cleon tried to reform his murderous ways...
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Like, fuck, man, these motherfuckers use the word "fuck" every fucking chance they get....
  • Downer Ending: Anthony is sentenced to life in prison for armed robbery and murder.Skip dies from a heroin overdose and is discovered by policemen raiding his home. Delilah is killed in a gunfight during the heist. During the getaway, Jose runs down an alley while a squad car pursues him. He shoots and kills the the driver, but the alley is a dead end and he gets smashed between the wall and the car. We can also assume that Kirby either dies or receives a sentence at least as long as Anthony's if not longer.
  • Dramatic Irony: The Money to Burn ends up getting burnt up when they use too much explosive. Instead of blowing off the door, it blows up the entire truck and they have to salvage the few bills that are blown clear.
  • From Camouflage to Criminal: Much of the main cast are Vietnam vets who wind up involved in crime after the war.
  • Genre Deconstruction: The latter half seems to deconstruct heist movies. Despite the veterans laying out a careful plan of action, the film reminds us that This Is Reality. Thanks to all of their individual issues, the veterans prove to be ill-fit for performing a heist. As a result, almost nothing goes as planned, several innocents are killed, and all of the participants of the heist end up either dead or incarcerated.
  • Gorn, The Vietnam segments and the heist itself.
  • Guilt-Ridden Accomplice Cleon, he rats out the others as well.
  • Guns Akimbo: Delilah during the heist with two 1911's.
  • Justified Criminal
  • Just Like Robin Hood: After the heist, the surviving gang members use some of their loot to buy Christmas presents for poor children.
  • Looks Like Cesare: The robbers' face paint during the heist.
  • Malcolm Xerox: Played straight with Delilah, but justified given the time period.
  • Mercy Kill: Anthony gives D'ambrosio an overdose of morphine after he's been disemboweled by the Viet Cong and begging to die.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The DVD cover and all of the promotional material would have you believe that the heist would be the largest focal point of the movie. In fact, the film spends more time on events leading up to the heist that it does on the heist and the aftermath.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Curtis suffers one which overlaps with his job as a butcher, and his violent Vietnam flashbacks. Which makes for a bone-chilling segment. Brrr...
  • Plethora of Mistakes
    "Anthony Curtis: The whole plan was fucked up! We ain't do shit right out there, man. Shit."

  • Psycho Party Member: Cleon was this during his stint in 'Nam. Dougan also showed heavy shades of this. Interestingly enough Kirby didn't want Delilah to be in on The Caper because he thought she was one of these saying
    "Oh, no, no, no, no. I don't want none of them revolutionary niggas involved."
  • Reality Ensues: Almost every major plot point in the film including the heist itself ends with this.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran, Curtis probably suffers from a mild form of this..
  • Out, Damned Spot!: Cleon, feeling guilty about having shot a cop, refers to the gang's loot as "dirty money."
  • Unwanted Assistance: Cleon's reaction during the heist, when a police officer (very kindly) offers to call up his precinct to check the local bus schedule for him.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: A remake of a film based on the true story of a group of black Vietnam vets who pulled a heist.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Anthony himself during the ending.
  • Villain Protagonist: Anthony and his gang plan to rob an armored car at the bank.