Red Tails review
Prepare for some spectacular aerial combat in George Lucas' long-in-the-making passion project, Red Tails. Here's Ron's review of a great WWII adventure...
For most men, war is hell. For the men of the Red Tails, an all-black fighter squadron in a segregated United States Army during World War II, war is boring as hell. Despite their training, all the men of the Tuskegee experiment get to do are boring patrols and mop-up work while all the real fighting, flying, and dying is for whites only. Fortunately, as the bombers continue to get shot down as their escort fighters go off chasing German fighters, the Army Air Corps gets increasingly desperate.
Enter the Tuskegee Airmen, known for the red nose and tail paint patterns on their airplanes. The movie’s focus is on one squadron of the group, led by Easy (Nate Parker) and composed of, at various times, Lightning (David Oyelowo), Joker (Elijah Kelley), Junior (Tristan Wilds), and Smoky (Ne-Yo). They fight both the Germans and racism, they struggle with substandard equipment and segregated facilities, and yet, in spite of all the hardship, they excel. They start to turn heads, get attention, and slowly but surely, they start to change the opinions of the white bomber crews who they fly support for.
To call Red Tails a passion project for George Lucas is an understatement of epic proportions. He’s been trying to get the project funded since 1998, and he eventually took nearly $100 million of his own money to make, promote, and distribute Red Tails. His hand prints are all over the movie, even though he did none of the directing. You can take a look at any of the fight scenes and see George Lucas, as clear as day. You can also see George Lucas reflected in the movie’s classic, almost naive tone and the way it skirts around the issues of racism (for the most part) in favor of a rip-roaring action yarn.
Red Tails functions as a sort of feel-good rah-rah picture the likes of which Hollywood doesn’t make about war anymore. The last movie of this type was Inglourious Basterds, I’d say; now, rather than the Jewish revenge fantasy, we get the African American hero tale. The Red Tails are heroes in the classic John Wayne or Gary Cooper mold, and Red Tails the movie handles them in a similar manner. Like those 40s and 50s movies, Red Tails can be corny, but it’s the good, fun kind of corniness in which you know the good guys are going to win and the evil Germans are going to get theirs in the end.
The dialogue can be incredibly clunky (especially in the flying scenes), and the characters are your standard archetypes, but once you accept that this is a movie that’s actively trying to be classic Hollywood corn, you’ll have a whole lot of fun. The script is a blend of sources, with John Ridley (of Undercover Brother fame) and Aaron McGruder (of Boondocks fame) working from the true story of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen and the imagination of George Lucas. That’s what gives the movie its unique tone: it’s essentially a blend of genres and generations to produce a big, broad, black-centric historical epic.
Director Anthony Hemingway cut his teeth on television dramas like Treme and The Wire, and his directorial chops are at their best during the scenes in which the various pilots interact with one another, or when Col Bullard (Terrence Howard) faces off with the racist Pentagon establishment personified by Col Mortamus (Bryan Cranston) or confabs with supporters General Luntz (Gerald McRaney) and Col Tomilson (Lee Tergesen).
While these scenes provide some comic relief, or some dramatic moments designed to draw responses from the audience, Red Tails‘ true starring moments are the incredible dogfights. Editors Ben Burtt (yes, that one from Wall-E) and Michael O’Halloran know their way around an editing suite, and the aerial combat is very exciting.
Is Red Tails going to win awards outside of the technical Oscars? Probably not. However, it’s a whole lot of fun and, given what George Lucas was going for, it’s a rousing success.
Is it a myth that is necessary? Probably not, but judging by the reaction of the audience during the film, it’s a welcome new face for an age-old genre. It’s not taking the men of the Tuskegee Airmen and turning them into heroes, it’s turning those heroes into legends.
The Tuskegee Airmen were some of the most decorated pilots on the US military, and it’s about time they joined the Flying Leathernecks, the Flying Tigers, and the Lafayette Escadrille in the pantheon of real-life pilots who get fantastic films made out of their real-life adventures.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan was pleasantly surprised by Red Tails. It was more fun than it had any right to be. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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