Film Scouts Reviews

"Dead Presidents"

by Eleanor Ringel

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A kind of black "The Deer Hunter," the Hughes Brothers' searingly fine sophomore effort (after "Menace II Society) focuses on some pals from the Bronx before, during and after their tour-of-duty in Vietnam. Larenz Tate, in a total turn-around from his mad-dog O-Dog in "Menace," is the protagonist, Anthony, a nice-enough kid from a middle class family who wants to join the Marines. Trouble is, it's 1969 and so he's shipped off to 'Nam. The scenes overseas are the movie's cinematic centerpiece, but the bulk of the picture takes place back home. The Hughes tackle an astonishing array of subjects: the plight of returning vets; changing neighborhoods with the influx of drugs, joblessness and weapons; domestic violence and single-parent families; black rage as it was in the wake of the sixties' "Black Is Beautiful" consciousness; childhood loyalties altered by hard times; and, most of all, the seemingly ineradicable plague of racism. The movie isn't perfect; by trying to cover so much territory, it inevitably skims over certain themes, skimps on certain characters. But it's brimming with vitality and passion and without resorting to an easy Blame Whitey out, it confronts us with the ugly reality of a nation so caught up in the macho-angst of losing a war abroad that it ignored a far more important war at home. A war that we're still fighting and one, alas, in which there are no winners.

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