Red Tails

Red Tails

Starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrance Howard, and David Oyelowo

Directed by Anthony Hemingway (HBO’s Treme)

Rated PG-13 for some sequences of war violence

     The story of the Tuskegee Airmen is a classic American tale of courage, skill and perseverance.  While the U.S. Military did not allow the African American pilots to fight in the main combat arena until towards the end of the war, their record of kills vs. casualties as well as their success at protecting American bombers is a truly fantastic and almost unbelievable achievement.  So there is also no doubt that these brave men of the 332nd Fighter Group deserve to be heralded and have their story preserved in film.  The problem is that they deserve a much better legacy than this. 

     The 1995 HBO movie The Tuskegee Airmen was a decent enough approach to the subject but had many problems.  That is probably why Executive Producer George Lucas and others at Lucas Films wanted to improve upon the story.  Unfortunately, the only thing that was improved upon was the special effects.  The aerial effects are truly spectacular and the fight sequences are surprisingly exciting.  I say surprisingly because while everything in the air is gold, everything on the ground is lame. 

     Many will come away saying the acting is just plain lousy, but that’s not altogether true.  There are some decent performers here that should have had a better script to read from.  The dialog is very poorly written throughout and most of the characters are nothing more than cookie cutter caricatures.  I’m shocked that many of the characters even had names.  At least there was some personality given to the members of the 332nd, because the white characters in the film were treated like complete stereotypes.  There was “Racist General,” “Nice White Pilot,” “Racist Nazi Pilot” and many other completely contrived characters who only detracted from the power of the overall story.  But even the main characters suffered from a lack of substance.  The only member of the cast that got a sufficient plot line was that of Joe “Lightening” Little (Oyelowo) but his story alone couldn’t save the film.

     Another serious issue with the script is its historical accuracy.  It’s widely known that the Tuskegee Airmen were extremely successful, but this film makes them look invincible.  While they lost less than most, they lost many more than this film represents.  Their version of the war is almost like a video game where the hero has to make it at least to the end.  War movies by nature revolve around the loss of human life and to show war differently is both deceptive and dishonorable.  This lack of humility to the very idea of war distracts from the movie and steals away any credibility they manage to achieve.

     The fact is that there is potential greatness in this premise and the film itself could have been another Glory.  But rather than making an inspired and inspirational film, the filmmakers settled for a visually captivating movie that serves as a poor representation of the men who gallantly fought in WWII and surprised a nation.  C