Red Tails (2012)

Greg Says: It has amazing dogfight scenes, but the story will leave you wanting.

Title: Red Tails (2012)
Rating: 7/10
Date: 22 January 2012
Recommendation: See it in theaters – because you won’t see dogfights like this again
Helpful: 3 out of 15 found this helpful.

This is the story of the Tuskegee Airmen – the all-black 332nd Fighter group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. The group is led by Marty “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker) who drinks too much. His bunkmate and best friend is wing-man Joe “Lightning” Little (David Oyelowo) who is a wild-card pilot.

This movie provides by far the most splendid dog fight scenes you will ever see. George Lucas’s Industrial Lights and Magic pulled all the stops to create the most intimate and believable aerial combat scenes in film history. If you are at all interested in WWII fighter movies, then you certainly must see this film on the big screen. It is a shame the film was not made in 3D because it would have been spectacular.

Sadly, this is the only reason to see this film on the big screen.

The story of the Tuskegee Airmen is one that is often overlooked by both fact and fictional retellings of the Second World War. Those men defied all the odds to deflect the prejudices of the time. It is only through the efforts and financial backing of Executive Producer George Lucas that the film was made. In interviews, Lucas points out that Hollywood would not back the project because it did not have a white leading man.

Lucas also says it took him 23 years to get the film made. If that is the case I’m not sure where the time went. The screenplay was lacking. The dialog was stilted and clichéd. The acting was average (even though veterans Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard put in good performances). The story was typical of B-flicks from the 1950’s.

It is politically correct to turn a blind eye to race in our culture. However, the movie is about race and so it makes sense to discuss it here. The theater I saw Red Tails in was filled to capacity with 75% African Americans and the rest were White and Hispanic. This crowd loved this movie.

I have rarely been in a theater where a movie connected so well with its audience. When one of our heroes shot down a German jet aircraft, the theater erupted in shouts and applause. And when a pilot died, there were gasps. Lucas in interviews says that he made this film because he wanted to tell this story to inspire a new generation of teenagers (and depending on the interview he even breaches political correctness and admits he wants to inspire young black men). I believe he may have achieved that goal.

I am slowly coming to realize that the opening credits to a movie will tell you how much money has been put into a film. When I saw “Drive,” for instance, it opened with neon pink lettering. And there wasn’t much money dumped on that film. In contrast, the opening credits to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” were more elaborate than the opening to any Bond film. So, I was concerned when the opening credits to Red Tails opened with simple red lettering. And, with the exception of the dogfights, I was correct. The film is as low-budget as it could be. They should have spent much more time and money on the story – after all they had 23 years to get it right.

At Agile Writers we learn that reality does not make for a good story. And it appears that the writers of Red Tails do not know this fundamental truth of storytelling. When we see a story, we expect to see a hero who has a deep desire and an internal flaw that needs mending. It is the character’s repair of that internal flaw that defines the hero’s arc and makes for a satisfying story. Red Tails does not deliver a story – it delivers a set of realities. There is no strong desire for any of the pilots.

But there is one overarching desire – respect. As a group these men wanted to serve and be treated with respect by their country. Despite the fact that they were constantly told they were lesser men; they wanted to risk their lives to defend the very nation that felt they were not worthy to fly in the U.S. Army Air Corps. By the end of the film, they received that respect in the form of commendations.

And I think they are still not receiving the respect they deserve. Last December, filmmaker Steven Spielberg released “War Horse” which was an amazingly beautiful story of a horse in World War I. This film received Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Film.

How is it that a fictional horse can receive the full Hollywood treatment when actual American men who served and died for their country had to wait 23 years for the generosity of George Lucas before their story could be told? And then, why did they have to receive only the barest of treatment in the form of their screenplay? Why didn’t they get a “War Horse?”

I wrestle with the answers to these questions. It is past time that the Tuskegee Airmen were recognized properly. I am thrilled with the film- going experience I shared with my audience mates today. And I hope that George Lucas succeeded in inspiring a new generation of young black men by this retelling of a true historical chapter in American history. I recommend everyone see this movie. But I really wish it had been better.