I was extremely interested in seeing George Lucas’ film Red Tails after hearing the difficulty he had in getting it made as he attributed it to the lack of Caucasian’s (his words). With that I assumed this movie would be a heartbreaking, epic story of the African-American fighter pilots who gave their lives to World War II…how silly I was. Instead of a heart-stopping epic we get a lazy Lifetime movie that deals in every stereotype of not just war movies, but the African American community itself. It’s a stretch to say this movie is racist, but it comes pretty damn close at times.
Red Tails tells of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, a crew of African American fighter pilots, who saved numerous lives in WWII. Amongst the fighting they also had to deal with the racism of their white brothers in arms, and the lack of funding for their cause.
As numerous other critics have already sited, the dogfights are the reason to see this film. When the group gets into the airplanes you are in the cockpit with them. The swooping, diving, shooting, all of that is on par with a fantastic WWII epic. It’s not a huge part of the movie, certainly not given enough time as it should, but if anything these action sequences truly show off the talent behind the camera in director Anthony Hemingway and producer George Lucas.
Sadly, once the crew is out of the airplanes you get a two-hour story that is simple and lazy. Every character has a defining characteristic, just one, and that’s meant to give you everything you know about the character. Lazy storytelling aside that characteristic sometimes borders on pure caricatures, mostly in the character of Marty “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker). Easy is a drinker like his daddy, that’s literally a quote and that’s all you need to know about him. It’s not enough that this movie tries to tell the story of the adversity these men face; it slaps into the audience a statement about the entire African American community that their problems apparently haven’t changed. Other characters include the stock war tropes of the man in love, the young one, etc. The above mentioned adversity is given as much care as an After School special with the characters having one racial slur hurled at them and after a lone dogfight every white person in their area loves them and wants to drink with them. With so much time Terrance Howard’s character spends arguing about how they don’t get any respect they get it way too easy. Another subplot involves the capture of Junior (Tristan Wilds) by the Germans. He’s imprisoned in a camp with whites, again immediately taken in by them, and actually says he’d rather stay there because if he broke out “they’d notice me” because he’s the lone black guy! The conclusion of his story involves him simply driving into the camp saying “Hey guys” with no recounting or showing of his escape…what did he walk out?
The cast doesn’t do anything to enhance the weak script and lazy story. The characters are so stock right down to their code names that it was hard for me to keep everyone’s name associated to a face, just because they are given no characterization to make them memorable. Terrance Howard and Cuba Gooding, Jr. is the top billed with about 20 minutes of screen time between them. Howard spends the film looking exasperated while Gooding strides in chomping on a cigar and yelling orders.
I’ve been told there are far better movies about the Tuskegee Airmen and I have to recommend you seek them out. This is a lazy, weak effort to detail the story of men who gave their lives to this country and faced disrespect from their own brothers-in-arms. Apparently, Lucas was afraid of alienating audiences and makes no one the hero or the villain, they’re all just bland.