By Gary Murray
Starring Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Bryan Cranston
Written by John Ridley and Aaron McGruder
Directed by Anthony Hemmingway
Running time 125 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating Matinee
George Lucas is one of the most successful motion picture producers of all time. He has been a part of some of the biggest hits of the cinema for over the last 40 years. Though he is a top tier director, he has produced more movies than he has made. The latest Lucas Film Production is the Anthony Hemmingway directed war film Red Tails.
The story of Red Tails is the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of pilots who fought during WWII. The African American aviators were considered inferior to their white counterparts. Tuskegee was an experiment to see if they could be as good of fighters as the white pilots.
The film takes place in Italy and we first see these brave men destroying a train convoy. These men are way behind the lines, blowing up supply lines and wanting to take on the Axis fighter pilots. They are the second class citizens taking on second class targets with second class planes. All these men want to do is prove them selves.
The commander of the Tuskegee Airmen is Colonel A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard), a service man who believes not only in his men but in the idea that a ‘Negro’ fighter can handle. On the other side of the war, bomber pilots are being destroyed by the German Luftwaffe, with fighter pilots off chasing individual planes while not protecting the flying fortress bombers. The general wants his men protected as they go to the bomb sites and Bullard knows that his Tuskegee Airmen are up to the task.
The story focused on two fliers, the young hotshot and the play it safe squad leader. The two share a bunk but not much else. While the hotshot will try any trick in the book (and a few that are not) to get his target the senior leader wants to play it safe. Any person who has seen a war movie knows what will happen to these two men by reel six.
That is the problem with Red Tails. If it weren’t for the novelty that almost the entire cast is minority, this would have been a very 1940’s style traditional war film. The characters are all from Stock Cinema 101 with basic motivations and simple character arcs. While these guys are brave and fearless warriors, they are stuck in the kind of film we have seen thousands of times before. We also get a scene that reflects to the brave actions of POW’s in a Stalag that became the story of The Great Escape. Here it is almost a throwaway moment.
There are a few scenes of racism that highlight the much bigger problem that was going on stateside, but other films have touched this part of the American past with a much more deft touch. Director Anthony Hemmingway never takes command of the story, never pushes the envelope one would expect the material demands.
Though the film boasts Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. as the stars, the real stars of Red Tails are the planes. The film just looks amazing in the second unit, with hundreds of CGI war machines filling the cinema screen. The dog fights are on par with the best from classic Hollywood, there just should have been more of them. With such a rich foundation of metal and machine to work with, one expects there to be these all-out stunning flying sequences. The focus is too much on details of the pilot’s lives when it would have been more effective to concentrate on the battles.
There have been interviews where Lucas has said that after Star Wars he just wanted to make a few more films, all personal projects that would have limited appeal. One must assume that Red Tails is one of those personal projects. He is wrong about the idea that a film like this will have a limited appeal. While not perfect, it is a grand tale that should be seen by everyone. This is not just a film for African Americans but for all Americans.