Red Tails

2012

20th Century Fox

Directed by Anthony Hemingway

Produced by Rick McCallum, Charles Floyd Johnson and George Lucas

Screenplay by John Ridley and Aaron McGruder

By now the story is legend.  The Tuskegee Airman were heroic African-American fighter pilots that fought in World War II, earning honor and distinction as bomber flight escorts. So successful were they at getting bomber groups to their targets and back to friendly airspace safely that soon commanders of bomber flights were specifically requesting that they be escorted by the 332 Fighter Group aka the RED TAILS.

This isn’t the first movie to tell the saga of The Tuskegee Airmen.  There’s the HBO movie “The Tuskegee Airmen” from 1995.  In fact, Cuba Gooding, Jr. who stars in RED TAILS was in that one as well.  It’s a story of true sacrifice, heroism and courage that took George Lucas 25 years to bring to the big screen.  And I give him a standing ovation for finally accomplishing that task.  And while I enjoyed RED TAILS for the most part I feel that the really great, epic movie about The Tuskegee Airmen has yet to be made.

Over in 1944 Italy, Major Stance (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) struggles to keep his pilots on a tight leash.  Chomping at the bit to see some real action, “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker) “Lightning” Little (David Oyelowo) “Joker” George (Elijah Kelley) “Smokey” Salem (Ne-Yo) and “Ray Gun” Gannon (Tristan Wilds) are fed up with meaningless recon patrols in broken down planes that their chief mechanics “Coffee” Coleman (Andre Royo) and “Sticks” (Method Man) are barely able to keep flying.

red_tails

That changes when orders come from their commanding officer, Colonel Bullard (Terrence Howard) who has been in Washington battling to get his squadron a real mission.  It isn’t easy dealing with the blatant racism of Colonel Mortamus (Bryan Cranston) who is more than eager to disband the squadron.  But with the help of Captain Tomilson (Lee Tergesen) he gets that mission and The Tuskegee Airmen get their chance.

And while The Tuskegee Airmen are busy making legends, they’re also making enemies in the form of a German ace they know only as “Pretty Boy” (Lars van Riesen) while “Lightning” is equally busy making a future life with a village girl named Sofia (Daniela Ruah) he’s fallen in love with and wants to marry.

Despite all of these characters, RED TAILS really skimps hard on the characterization.  Which I suppose is why all the major characters have colorful nicknames.  It helps to keep them straight.  There are is some effort made to show the racism that The Airmen had to confront but it doesn’t seem to go into that very deeply.  I get the impression that the filmmakers take it for granted that we know about The Tuskegee Airmen and their struggles against racism and so concentrate more on the action in the sky.

Not that I minded.  I always appreciate a good dogfight and there’s plenty of good ones here. I give director Anthony Hemingway credit for getting Cuba Gooding, Jr. to behave himself and act like a human being instead of a live action cartoon.  And I’m willing to bet that Gooding grew up watching more than his share of World War II movies.  Both he and Terrence Howard have a lot of fun delivering stirring speeches about never giving up and fighting for their country.

So should you see RED TAILS?  There’s a lot to like in the movie.  It’s professionally made and acted.  Just don’t look for much depth in the characters or the historical background of The Tuskegee Airmen and you’ll be fine.

121 minutes

PG-13

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7 comments

  1. I really liked this a great deal, Derrick. A fitting companion piece to that earlier HBO effort. The action was superb throughout and like you, I was thrilled to see Cuba Gooding Jr. show why he won an Oscar in the first place. Been a long time since he landed such a good part. Reminded me a great deal of Gregory Peck in 12 O’Clock High. Thumbs up for everyone in this stirring war flick.

    1. Cuba Gooding, Jr. is a baffling actor. I cringe when I see him in movies like “Snow Dogs” or “The Fighting Temptations” where he’s so unrealistically over the top he makes a Looney Toon look logical. But when he’s a movie like this one or “Men of Honor” he reminds us of why he deserved to win that Oscar. And I agree, this would make an excellent double feature with the HBO film.

  2. I agree with many of your points. I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t as much done regarding the way the “negro” airmen were ultimately treated. I suppose maybe they didn’t delve much into it because of them being in Italy versus being in the United States and not having much time. I wasn’t too thrilled with Cuba Gooding Jr.’s performance. I felt that it was a little bit overacted and he seems almost like a characture. At the end of the day I really enjoyed the movie. Having seen Joyful Noise before it and not crying I was surprised at how freely the tears flowed during a particular scene in the movie. My crying fit lasted for at least 5 to 7 minutes. I’m just glad the movie got made yes it does do light brushstrokes over the importance of the Tuskegee Airman but just having it made and distributed by a major company brings attention to a part of history that we shouldn’t soon forget. It’s like you said, they want to assume that the audience knows about the Tuskegee Airmen but unfortunately as more time goes by less and less people seem to remember the relevance of what they did. George Lucas said that it was difficult to “sell” this movie especially since it was a predominantly all-black cast and it wasn’t another Madea type movie. I’m just glad that he did.

      1. KosagiNoLegion and I have gotten to see RED TAILS, and my take–my expectations having been calibrated to Lucasfilm’s strengths and weaknesses–is that it’s something of a (sumptuously realized) faux period artifact: the sort of corny old-fashioned war movie that, in a just world, *would* have been made about the Tuskegee Airmen fifty or sixty years ago. On that level, I have to say it delivers–and presenting a squadron of Big Damn Heroes of Color ias the protagonists is at least a start. (And there desperately needs to be a Tuskegee Airmen video game, too,)

        (Slight spoiler warning: a corny trope they missed, and one I was hoping for at the end of the closing credits, was the sunny village schoolyard where a little mocha latte kid is running amuck with model airplanes.)

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