RUNNING TIME:125 mins
REVIWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In 1944, after enduring racism throughout their recruitment and training in the Tuskagee training programme, the 332d Fighter Group of young African American USAAF fighter pilots are finally sent into combat in Italy, although flying worn-out aircraft. Chafing at their ground attack missions against trains and enemy ground transport, the Tuskegee Airmen recognize that they may never fight the Luftwaffe in fighter-to-fighter combat. The tight-knit group of Joe “Lightning” Little, Martin “Easy” Julian, Ray “Ray Gun” or “Junior” Ganno, and Samuel “Joker” George, under the guidance of Major Emanuel Stance and Col. A.J. Bullard, face a white military bureaucracy still resistant to accepting black flyers as equals. Then they get their chance to shine when they are chosen to support the Allied landings at Anzio…….
It’s certainly an inspiring story [and one that has already been the subject of a TV movie in 1998]. How the first African American fighter pilots beat racism to shine in the Second World War, supporting bombers on some of the most crucial raids. It’s actually a story that George Lucas first wanted to make in 1988, initially as a trilogy. Red Tails was actually filmed mostly in 2009 but was subject to reshoots the following year by executive producer Lucas himself, and even after that took two years to come out. Now the movie finally is out and has received a poor reception from both critics and audiences? Is all this evidence of racism [as some have alleged] about a film with an all-black cast or a sign that the movie is crap? I would personally say it’s neither. I believe racism, especially against blacks, is largely exaggerated in some quarters, while the film, while it certainly has serious problems and doesn’t come anywhere near the similarly themed Glory, is nowhere near as bad as you may have heard.
Red Tails opens in a show-offy manner with a spectacular air battle, after which the camera glides through some clouds without a cut until it reaches four other planes, totally seperate from the action we have just seen, the planes of our four main protagonists. Both technically impressive and a nice way of showing their situation, it’s a good beginning, but then the characters open their mouths to spout dialogue that is as bad as anything Lucas had been involved with. Honestly, it’s awful and really brings the film down at times. The script overall is awkward and uneven. All the charaters are either drawn from stock or so noble and flawless that they rarely convince as actual human beings. Despite having four ‘heroes’, the film concentrates mostly on one, Joe Little, who is the least interesting character of the lot. He has a romance with a pretty senorita, and this is played out in a typically beautiful old Italian town, a kind of haven from the war. Sadly though the romance is conveyed is a few quick scenes which jump forward too fast, ensuring that we just don’t care about very much. At one point the film becomes a prison escape movie but again seems very rushed, with the scene of the escape virtually thrown away. There is, though, one of the most hair-raising ‘man in a damaged-plane-trying-to-land’ scenes I’ve seen in ages, and I must admit, the first time the Tuskagee Airmen return in victory from their first major mission, I felt like cheering.
The film does though do a good job of getting across the bigotry the Airmen faced in just a few scenes, even from those very high up. What seems to have annoyed many is that many liberties have been taken with the facts, such as saying that other air squadrons abandoned their roles during air strikes in which the Tuskagee Airmen took part. I have an increasing intolerance for films altering history, especially recent history where some of the people who took part in it are still alive, and it almost does the real Tuskagee Airmen a disservice. Now the aeriel action scenes are awesome to look and very exciting, with little of the stupidly fast editing that you usually get these days, and the CGI planes certainly look realistic, but they fly and maneuver as if they are in a cartoon, defying the laws of physics. It doesn’t seem like the filmmakers knew much about actual aerial warfare at all. Did you know that fighter cockpits are almost silent and you can hear a parachute open outside? I will also say that, while the planes look fine, the fires when they are hit don’t always convince. Despite all these problems, the action nonetheless works on a visceral level, and there’s also more blood than you would expect from this defiantly old-fashioned film.
Yes, some of the time this really looks and feels like a film from decades ago. This is something I didn’t mind, it being a nice change from the gritty approach you usually get in war films at the moment, but sadly the action is mostly quite poor, with some of the younger cast members giving the feeling of just being pulled in from the street and told to get on with it. Cuba Gooding Jr. does little but fiddle with a pipe, but Terence Howard has a few strong scenes and seems to be really trying to give Red Tails the strong centre it lacks. I’ve spent a lot of time criticising this film, and yet I still quite liked it. Its heart is certainly in the right place and I found its innocence and idealism quite refreshing. Cover your ears and it’s actually quite enjoyable.