Red Tails (2012) Directed by Anthony Hemingway. Written by: John Ridley and Aaron McGruder. Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Gerald McRaney and David Oyelowo. IMDB says: “A crew of African American pilots in the Tuskegee training program, having faced segregation while kept mostly on the ground during World War II, are called into duty under the guidance of Col. A.J. Bullard.”
Red Tails is getting a special guest review by no other than my dad, Bob, self-proclaimed war buff and movie enthusiast. I brought my dad along to see this because of his interests, and thought his perspective on the movie would be interesting considering his know-what on the subject. I personally thought this movie was just very underserving. It’s a pretty remarkable story that deserved a much more remarkable film. My dad and I did agree it was a decent send-off to post WWII films about the glory of war, and George Lucas, who made this movie as a long time passion project, had just that tone in mind. I’m not sure if it is what audiences will connect with today in the time of The Hurt Locker, Band of Brothers, or Saving Private Ryan. But this review will give you the perspective of someone who knows all about both the history of the subject and the war movie genre itself. -Jess
The movie Red Tails reminded me of those old WWII movies that promulgated Hollywood post war. In fact that was George Lucas intent when making this film, and he hit it dead on. As an aficionado of the genre I was pleased with the final product. Although I have my doubts on the box office success of the film; it is a throwback in the classic style but with great CGI. Fans of WWII aviation will marvel at the fleet of B 17 Flying Fortresses, P51 Mustangs and the first representation of the German ME 262 jet fighter. The airfield scenes were very well done with an accurate portrayal of the everyday life of the airmen and the ground support crews. Now that the geeky stuff is done, let me move into the guts of the movie.
|Some of the real Tuskagee Airmen
Interestingly enough, the movie is not the first endeavor to highlight the story of the Tuskegee Airman of the 332nd Fighter Group. HBO did a take up on this much decorated group of American servicemen several years back. In fact Cuba Gooding Jr. was part of that movie too. In the HBO version the actual historical figures were portrayed. In Red Tails, fictional characters were used to allow for poetic license and to build back stories. Terrance Howard’s portrayal of Colonel Bullard was interesting as he played the part of Benjamin O. Davis, the historical Group Commander. Davis’ story is interesting on its own, he attended West Point and upon graduation and commissioning was only one of two African-American line officers in the Army; his father (who also became the first black general officer) was the other. Historically Davis flew dozens of missions during the war receiving both the Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross. In the movie, Bullard is never seen flying, and that detracts somewhat from the true story. Cuba Gooding’s character is also never seen flying–another anachronism to reality. However, for being the biggest name actors in the film, both play supporting roles; and they did a fine job. The rest of the cast with few exceptions are relatively, at least to me, unknowns; but I believe they did a good job in their portrayals.
This movie follows the classic WWII good guy vs. bad guy meme. The German Ace nicknamed “Pretty Boy” is the antagonist and “Lightning” the hot shot American pilot are bound to be locked in mortal combat at the end. That’s how it always plays out; in fact, this movie follows that classic story line so much that all it needed was the twist where a seemingly dead enemy manages to kill off a good guy. The movie does stray a bit. You have the love interest; I always hated that in war movies, and a POW side bar that doesn’t add to the story. Of course the love story ends tragically, and the POW story ends as expected. In fact, the POW story line kind of cops itself from Hart’s War, which Terrance Howard also starred in, only this time instead of being ostracized by the white prisoners “Junior” is portrayed as a key element to an escape plot. The issue of racism is handled deftly, with a scene where “Lightning” wanders into an officers club in Italy and is told it’s Whites Only, ending with him taking on the whole bar after being called a racial epitaph.
In general the movie is a feel good movie. There is plenty of mom and apple pie, struggles with racism and personal battles; and the inevitable victory of good over evil. The movie ends with God Bless America playing while Old Glory waves in the sun. I’d give this movie 3 Howitzers for the cast and storyline, and 4 Howitzers for the special effects. Go see it, a little feel good might just make your day.