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Review: Red Tails

It’s here! It’s finally here!

After 23 years of rejection, cinematic torture, and pure lack of interest from every conceivable motion picture studio, George Lucas’ retelling of the Tuskegee Airmen’s battle against racism and the Germans during WW II, has at last been released and is now playing at a theater near you.

The question is: is it any good?

Well, in a word … no. In a sentence … Red Tails takes a passionate and serious subject matter, glamorizes it, and then morphs the story into a unconvincing, incoherent, action frenzied mess.

Director Anthony Hemingway’s directorial debut is the type of film you want to embrace, though. It’s a feel good blockbuster that doesn’t degrade society or dismantle morals, but rather cultivates them. How unfortunate that substance is too often substituted with hyper kinetic (Lucas driven) CGI.

We pick up the story in Italy, 1944. It’s the height of WW II and a new program entitled The Tuskegee Airmen has been set in motion. Despite malicious racists in Government and all across the country, these gentlemen are the first African American pilots to fight in war.

Red Tails has no genuine main character. Naturally, we receive some more fascinating than others. Joe ‘Lightning’ Little (David Oyelowo) – an eccentric pilot who falls for a gorgeous Italian woman, starts a fight in a bar, and talks back to his superiors. And his best friend, Marty ‘Easy’ Julian (Nate Parker) – who leads the “negro” pilots into combat and his ridden with an alcohol problem.

The African American generals are played by respected actors, Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. The former is compromising with government to allow the “negro” soldiers to fight in the air. And Gooding’s character does one thing: smoke from a Sherlock Holmes-like pipe, while strolling around the army base.

The historical narrative of these Tuskegee Airmen is bold and emotionally wrenching. George Lucas’ vision and ultimate creation of these events, is not. 
While the film certainly speaks to our patriotic sensibilities, delivering monologues on equality and the selflessness one must have in warfare, Red Tails does little to provoke any honest feelings. The stakes don’t feel crucial and John Ridley’s story perpetually avoids scenes that could be utilized as a springboard for emotion and deeper significance.

Instead, the films priorities lie within its visual craft. Lucas knows the sky – and understands how to create ingenious combatant action sequences. Most are first person, cutting between wide lens shots of battle and quick close ups of the pilot.

But like all momentary enjoyment, this becomes tiresome.

We’re then left with a young cast that provides – what feels like – impersonations, rather than nuanced performances. A meandering script lacking the depth of the issues that were present during the war. And to top it off, editing that leaves little room for one to care about these diligent soldiers on screen.

Signs of maturity and hope are sporadically sprinkled throughout Hemingway’s Red Tails. However, what’s more aggravating than obtaining small doses of quality during a film, is seeing a subject as vital as the Tuskegee Airmen being debased to a level of farcical entertainment.

For those truly interested in the story of these valuable individuals, check out the film entitled The Tuskegee Airmen. Directed by Robert Markowitz, made in 1995.

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