Red Tails review

Review James Peaty 5 Jun 2012 - 11:30

Lucasfilm's Red Tails, relaying the story of African American WWII heroes the Tuskegee Airman, has finally arrived...

With a development process spanning twenty-plus years and a release date almost six months after its US opening, Red Tails, George Lucas’ long-discussed account of the Tuskegee Airmen, finally hits our screens. 

Scripted by John Ridley (Three Kings, U-Turn) and Aaron McGruder (Boondocks), and directed by Anthony Hemingway (The Wire, Treme), Red Tails follows the 332nd fighter group, a squadron of African American fighter pilots who overcame racial discrimination to become one of the most decorated in World War II. 

Very much an ensemble piece, featuring a cast that includes Cuba Gooding Jr, Terrence Howard, Bryan Cranston and Britain’s own David Oyelowo, Red Tails takes a broad brushstroke approach to its storytelling.

Focusing solely on the story of the pilots, who were reluctantly allowed to fly combat missions after the failure of the regular squadrons to protect US bombers on their raids into Germany, it eschews the broader political questions of the time and instead delivers an uplifting tale of heroic derring-do.

From the brightly colored aerial dogfight that opens the picture, it’s clear that Red Tails is both a George Lucas production and a distinctly comic book retelling of a fascinating piece of US social history. Featuring some of the most exhilarating aerial combat sequences committed to film since Top Gun, Red Tails knows its strengths and plays to them at every opportunity.

It certainly doesn’t hurt the film that the sound and picture editing has been overseen by Star Wars and Indiana Jones veteran, Ben Burtt. An unsung hero of the Lucasfilm family, Burtt’s work lends the action segments a life, vitality and clarity that most modern action pictures struggle to achieve. Unfortunately, that life and vitality is mainly absent during the scenes set back on terra firma, which recast the story of the 332nd squadron as an obvious, though sweet-natured, melodrama.

Mainly centring on the story of Joe ‘Lightning’ Little (Oyelowo), Martin ‘Easy’ Julian (Nate Parker) and Ray ‘Ray Gun’ Gannon (Tristan Wilds), during the two-hour plus running time we witness boys becoming men, mavericks learning humility, reluctant leaders struggling under pressure and young love thwarted by the cruelty of war.

While the younger cast is left to wrestle with the ‘soapier’ material, it falls to Cuba Gooding Jr and Terrence Howard to try and breathe life into the more expositional aspects of the story. For the most part they just about succeed, but one comes away from the film wishing that both actors (along with the criminally underused Bryan Cranston) could have been utilized in a more interesting and effective way. That said, despite its somewhat crude approach to storytelling and character, taken on its own terms Red Tails just about works.

Whether it’s the consistently earnest and sincere tone it adopts, or simply the fact that World War II movie archetypes are somehow deeply reassuring, there is something about the film that makes it a far more effective whole than you’d otherwise expect.

Which isn’t to say Red Tails is for everyone. Many will no doubt baulk at its Ripping Yarns approach to history, while those of a more cynical disposition would be better off watching either 1995’s The Tuskegee Airmen, or even Clint Eastwood’s 2003 Flags Of Our Fathers, which examines America’s treatment of its WWII heroes through far less rose tinted spectacles.

However, if you’re in the mood for a war movie that’s almost as breathlessly entertaining as it is unchallenging and as reassuring as mug of warm cocoa then Red Tails might just be right up your street. 

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Ah come on, acting was appalling. the only thing that kept this film alive was the special effects. Even from the starting credits this film looked like a straight to DVD film.

Yes James, Red Tails is better than Prometheus. Of course it is. By a whole star too.

I liked how incredibly simply the issue of racism was handled in the film. There was a scene where some white pilots were racist, then there was a dogfight with the Red Tails, and then the white pilots weren't racist anymore. Good work! I did actually enjoyed the film a lot more than I thought I would, despite it's lack of depth or story or realism. I think if I was about 12 I would have thought it was amazing!

Action scenes do look very good, from what I have seen from the trailer, however the script seemed like it was going to be an issue from the beginning. I think, though, I will go see it anyway.

I mean, Red Tails must be better with its 38% on RT.
While Prometheus is holding its own in the low 80s
Makes perfect sense.

I saw this film about a month ago so have the benefit of a little hindsight. My opinion is that is still stinks. Bad acting, bad script, a glossing over of history like few films ever have, certainly not realistic in its portrayal of the racism of the time.. I have to agree though that the special effects are outstanding though and are worth going to see the movie alone for.

For years after the WWII,  the US Government would not even acknowledge that the Tuskegee Airmen even existed, and this film does not come close to showing how they were treated and setup for failure when first assigned attack missions over Italy.

A badly acted, scripted George Lucas film, you say?

It sounds like they missed a golden opportunity to exploit the potential dramatic impact of a sort of "success against all odds" kind of story. It sounds like the squandered great dramatic material.

I agree totally with most the comments, to me this was being groomed to be a Sunday afternoon war movie from the get go judging by the finished product. Not bad! just... a bit lazy lucas films 

Are you kidding? Red Tails sucked. It, by no means, reflected true strategy and physics of WWII dogfighters. The planes were much too maneuverable, the dialogue screamed, "George Lucas!", and the "Stay with the bombers, no matter what" strategy was completely untrue. On top of that, a main character's plane gets hit with a German cannon and three regular-sized bullet holes appear in the cockpit. If you ask me, Peter Jackson should have done this movie and George Lucas needs to retire movie-making.

The action scenes actually sucked, sorry to say. At first, the planes all looked very realistic, then they made 90-degree turns all over the place. It was nauseating, along with the rest of the script. If you haven't seen it yet, save your money and don't go.

So he's in the 38% that liked this, and also the 20% or so that didn't like Prometheus. It's not that outlandish.

And, by your logic, he's in the 18% that didn't like Troll Hunter. See a pattern?

Sure I do - but maybe he's reviewed other films as well, and agreed with the consensus. We're playing around in the margins here anyway - 2 stars, 3 stars, there's not that much in it. It's not like it was 5-0.

If more people like film A than film B, it doesn't mean that everyone has to like film A more than film B.I do get the feeling the Prometheus score was punitive ("Prometheus: The Movie doesn’t come close to delivering anywhere near the thrills, excitement and clarity of Prometheus: The Marketing Exercise." - that'll teach you to make me all excited about a film) whereas this is more of a 'didn't go in expecting much and was surprised to find I quite enjoyed it' review ("That said, despite its somewhat crude approach to storytelling and character, taken on its own terms Red Tails just about works.")I haven't actually seen either yet, and only plan on seeing one, and I really hope I like it more than James did.

Even if there was some kind of comic book stylistic intent, the characters were flat, the dialogue bounced between cringing and embarrassing, very little story, and what bit there was thrashed all over the place.  Dire acting, poor flow ... within the first minute it screamed how bad it was, and it went downhill from there.  Not even the impressive aerial and action sequences saved it.  A big disappointment, and I can only wonder what the senior artists really think of it ...

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