Tristan Wilds

Review: “Red Tails” pays homage to the Tuskegee Airmen

January 20th, 2012 at 12:14 am by under Entertainment

 Making history isn’t easy… and putting history on the big screen isn’t easy either.  The Tuskegee Airmen did it in World War II, becoming the first african-american fighter pilots in history… now nearly 70 years later their story is told again to a larger movie audience.

Brought to us by a guy who loves airborne combat – George Lucas – “Red Tails” has some really good looking scenes in the skies above Europe, but has trouble winning any medals when its on the ground.

"Red Tails" poster courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

 (My spoiler-free review)

The Tuskegee Airmen are an important piece of American history and their story should be seen by young and old, but like a shot up old P-39, this version wobbles and struggles to stay airborne.

“Red Tails” is at its best when the movie is in the air, when the pilots are flying patrols, cover, escorts, or in dogfights with the “Gerrys” (Germans).

Sure Terrence Howard and  Cuba Gooding, Jr. deliver some good lines, but much of the other characters’ dialogue is weak, cliche, and cardboard-esque.   There are some moments of real emotion, but the filmmakers rush to get to the next scene, instead of letting the scene breathe and resonate with the audience. 

The filmmakers do spend enough time with the main characters, developing them and their chemistry amoung their squad, so we care what happens to them, but too often the lines are corny, predictable, or have weak delivery.

This story is so ripe for inspiring emotional appeal, but this never reaches the level of motivating patriotic ferver that so many other war movies have in the past.  The story is strong in some areas, like the scenes in the air when the pilots are fighting the Nazi’s or escorting bombers across enemy lines.  The scenes in the air and inside the cockpits look everybit as good or better than the starfighter scenes of the Star Wars movies… they are the best looking parts of the movie.  Unlike other movies that look like they were shot in a studio where the only background is the sky, the filmmakers in “Red Tails” pay attention to the background of the pilots as they fly their missons… trees, farmlands, other planes can be seen in the background outside the cockpit.  Unfortunately there are not enough aerial combat scenes and when the story takes us back to the ground, the story moves slow and drags at points, but is too quick in other scenes that could have really built up the emotional impact of such an important piece of american military history.

An added romantic angle for one of the pilots sidetracks the main story and (1) seems to be added to give the pilots more humanity, (2) stretch out the story to fill two hours, and/or (3) is perceived as neccessary to keep the women in the audience interested.  I think any and all of those explanations would seriously underestimate the audience that would otherwise be interested and connected without the romantic subplot.