Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Film for The Arena- Dead Presidents (1995)

Mark Kermode followed up his review of the Hughes Brothers latest feature The Book of Eli with a special tribute to Dead Presidents. He said that it was the pair's best work and implored people to seek out a copy of it and have a watch. I rarely disagree with Kermode, and often find we champion the same films. He adored The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford (my film of the last decade) almost as much as me. I have on occasion taken issue with him, namely for customarily greeting pictures from the Judd Apatow stable with a sigh. Superbad, Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pineapple Express are all perfectly fine and enjoyable, and are not an example of the 'death of narrative cinema.' More recently, he inveighed against a film I rather enjoyed- Fantastic Mr. Fox- which was charming- beautifully crafted and funny. The jokes were knowingly, but not snidely, above Dahl's intended audience- and his spirit was retained. Dead Presidents is a fine piece of work. It has a drawn out and memorable opening credit sequence- dramatic close-up shots of flames ripping through the stoic faces of dead presidents, as dollar bills burn. The sequence is prescient of a complication during the heist, but also a visual metaphor for a troubled America- one lingering shot shows the flames slowly eating the 'In God We Trust' adage into darkness. It manages to control ideas about race, war (and specifically the emptiness of the Vietnam veteran) drugs and the economy. It has a brutal 20 minute Vietnam sequence, which does as much to realize the horror and moral vacuity of the soldier's lifestyle as Platoon. Its also worth seeking out for one of the greatest heist sequences committed to film (other recent ones that spring to mind are Heat, Point Break, The Dark Knight and a poignantly botched one in Before The Devil Knows You're Dead). This heist is deftly controlled- uncomfortably tense, sickeningly violent and there is something timelessly disturbing about the white-face disguise used. Three more reasons to watch; first, a cameo by Martin Sheen as a court judge (always great when pontificating, see The West WIng) and second a performance of quality from Chris Tucker before he gurned and laughed his way through the Rush Hour movies. FInally, the soundtrack- a collection of soulful orations and smooth funk, showcasing the likes of Barry White and Isaac Hayes, which inspirits the films with vigour and dampens it with melancholy at every turn. Worth a watch.

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