Review: Red Tails

January 31st, 2012 | by Sqotty |

I went to see Red Tails over the weekend. First off, let me make a couple of things clear: Red Tails is not, nor was it meant to be, a historically accurate portrayal of the 332nd Fighter Group and the Tuskegee Airmen. Lucas makes this clear during the opening with a message that the film was inspired by the 332nd. Second, I have never seen the HBO Tuskegee Airmen in its entirety; only bits and pieces, and not enough to make a comparison of it with Red Tails. Nor is that my intention.

The story of the Red Tails cannot be told often enough. It is a great story on so many fronts; courage, perseverance, honor, duty and overcoming racial barriers. There are reasons why the bomber groups requested the 332nd to be their escorts over hostile terrain, and for darn good reason: The 332nd had the best record for bomber escort in the war.

As for the film Red Tails, well, hey, it has Cuba Gooding, Jr. in it. He is a great actor and I have enjoyed his roles in films like Men of Honor and Snow Dogs (one of my favorite comedies, and it has huskies in it!). Gooding plays Major Stance, who seems to be the group’s executive officer, and is seen throughout the film encouraging his men, and chomping down on a pipe. He carried the role well and convincingly. Gooding is the only actor in the film whose work I am familiar with. Maybe I don’t get out enough anymore.

Quite frankly, nearly all of the cast, and especially all of the major players are darned good. From David Oyelowo as Lightning, the best pilot in the group to Andre Royo as Coffee, their main crew chief, who makes it known that he doesn’t like his planes being brought home full of holes (or parts of trains), but would much rather see the planes shot up and the pilots intact.

There is a lot to like about the characters, from Easy, the squadron leader with a drinking problem, to Lightning, the womanizer who falls in love and likes looking for trouble, to Junior, who, in his words, goes through Hell and back. There are a few, like Smokey, played by Ne-Yo (sorry, but that’s a name???), who is a bit under-developed and makes me wonder what footage was left on the cutting room floor. They all have a story to tell, and they get it done.

There is one scene that I thought was a bit contrived and just didn’t work for me, and that’s when Lightning goes into the Officer’s Club in town and is told by the white officers to leave, and a few racial epithets thrown out at him, resulting in his starting a fight and ending up in jail. that scene came off with a phony feel, like Lucas had to throw this in in order to get across the racial struggles that the Tuskegge Airmen faced. It could have been done better. Part of it felt like the actors playing in the scene just didn’t want to use that n-word. Can’t blame them; I wouldn’t want to use it either. The whole scene is there in order to lead into a later scene at the same Officer’s club where some bomber pilots make it known that they want to thank the Red Tails for being darn good pilots. This scene mostly doesn’t work, but there is one funny bit where one of the Red Tails says to the bomber pilots, “When you get mad, you turn red; when you get sick, you turn green; and when you turn coward, you turn yellow. And you call us ‘colored’?” Great line.

The aerial scenes are all CGI, which comes as no surprise as this is a Lucas Film (effects by Industrial Light and Magic) and there just isn’t that many of these birds still in flying condition. And believe me, I wish there were hundreds of these birds still around, but there just aren’t that many. The first time they fly an escort mission with their brand new P-51s, we see the tails first rising out of the clouds like the dorsal fin of a shark; predators on the rise; hunters.

Red Tails is definitely a movie worth seeing on the Big Screen. Aside from a couple of weak scenes trying to establish racial issues that were in the category of #fail, it is otherwise a very good picture with all of the elements a good war film should have: Honor, duty, heroism, and gutsy men doing what they have to do to keep themselves and their comrades alive.

One last thought. A few days before the release Lucas was complaining that Hollywood didn’t know how to market Red Tails as it is an adventure film with a predominantly black cast. To me, the answer is clear; you market it like any other film – on its merits. And Red Tails merits well.

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