“Red Tails” feels like a 1940s war movie. It has soldiers who utter liens like, “Take that Mr. Hitler!” as they blow up ammunition ship and amazing aerial photography. The only difference is the color of the soldier’s skin. A study of the classic war films shows no indication of the contribution of African-American soldiers. By telling the heroic story of the Tuskegee airmen “Red Tails” hopes to right that wrong.
Based on true events (though dramatized for film) the movie focuses on a group African American WWII pilots, the top guns of the 332nd Fighter Group, the Tuskegee Airmen. Fighting the racial discrimination of the US military they prove their mettle by taking on dangerous assignments in active combat.
You can’t accuse Red Tails of being subtle. It plays like a Saturday morning matinee with a social conscious; unabashedly patriotic, unapologetically melodramatic and an unashamed throwback to the propaganda movies of yesteryear. The mix and match of those elements works for the first hour, but the time one of the pilots whoops, “Let’s give those newspapers something to write about!” the once charming tone of the movie starts to wear thin.
George Lucas produced this—although “Treme’s” Anthony Hemingway directed—and it is a Lucas movie with all the good and bad that implies. It’s corny, over-the-top, wildly uneven and episodic but when it takes flight, literally, it soars.
The aerial scenes (aided by Lucas’s computer tweaking) are breathtaking. I do wish, however, there was less dialogue during the dogfights. I think fighter pilots in attack mode have better things to concentrate on than making wisecracks or talking about girls.
“Red Tails” mostly suffers from a poorly told story. Just as it seems to be working up to an important point or climatic moment, it shies away, instead focusing on a superfluous love story or melodramatic moment (“My head, it hurts… I must have passed out”).
The actors do what they can with what they’re given—Nate Parker as Martin “Easy” Julian and David Oyelowo as Joe “Lightning” Little are the standouts—but the stars here are the planes and the historical context, not the actors.