Red Tails, 2012.
Directed by Anthony Hemingway.
Starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Ne-Yo, Method Man, Nate Parker, Elijah Kelley, Tristan Wilds, David Oyelowo, Theo James, Michael B. Jordon, Josh Dallas, Daniela Ruah and Bryan Cranston.
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.
You’d be forgiven for thinking of Top Gun whenever someone talked about fighter pilot films. The images of The Cruiser and his buddies playing volleyball on the beach to the sounds of Kenny Loggins, or that devastating moment when Goose meets his demise. Since then, nothing has really come close to replicating the energy and energy that Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer brought to screen, and the skies, back in 1986. Well, now it’s George Lucas’ turn, as he brings Red Tails to the screen, his first producing role outside of Star Wars and Indiana Jones since 1994.
Red Tails is the newest attempt to replicate the action up in the big blue, this time based on true events from World War II. The story of a regiment of African American pilots who struggle with the inequality and racial separation of the era, waiting patiently whilst in the Tuskegee training program, to not only be taken seriously as pilots, but for their chance to help their country win the war. Led by their stern yet likeable Major (Gooding Jr.), the Regiment are stationed in the outskirts of Italy, utilised mainly for the “odd jobs” whilst the main cavalry continue to fight the enemy.
Obvious frustrations peak their head through the squad, particularly between squad leader Easy (Parker) and the fiery, eager “Lightning” (Oyelowo) both of whom are considered the best pilots in the group, despite their opposing views. Their struggles and frustrations are felt back in the USA too, with Major Bullard (Howard) fights valiantly against the system to prove that his fighters are more than capable of being more than just lookout pilots.
It’s during the aerial scenes that Red Tails really “flies”. With the obvious input of Lucas and ILM, they replicate feel of combat brilliantly with consummate skill, and create some genuinely exciting moments while up in the sky. It has the all the energy of all those great Star Wars aerial battles that, particularly in the later films, we’re always a highlight.
Where the film lets itself down, however, is in its cliché-ridden script. Written by John Ridley, the film is saccharine and tedious in places, more interested in being overly patriotic than bothering with realism or tension, both in the air and on the ground, and some of the events that transpire are horribly signposted throughout, a lot like Pearl Harbor. The characters too are poorly handled, with each of them a who’s-who of your typical “USA!” film (the rebel, the drinker, the joker, the kid-who-becomes-man-through-his-experiences), none of whom leave any real lasting impression, left hanging in some tedious subplots. Despite that though, the performances are decent enough from the ensemble, most notably from Oyewolo, who’s brazen and cocky Lightning is the films star turn, as well as some much needed class from the presence Howard and Gooding Jr. in their supporting roles.
If you can stomach the clichés and the “USA!” excesses of the script, Red Tails is worth a view for the aerial scenes alone, which – with some great CGI – are some of the most genuinely exciting scenes of the year.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★