Tuskegee Airmen get a vibrant portrayal in Red Tails

Red Tails – 2012

Directed by Anthony Hemingway (w/ George Lucas)
Starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., Terence Howard, Ne Yo, David Oyelowo, Tristan Wilds, Elijah Kelley, Nate Parker, Lars van Reisen, Daniela Ruah, Bryan Cranston, Gerald McRaeny, Lee Tergesen, Andre Royo, Marcus T. Paulk
Screenplay by John Ridley, Aaron McGruder

An essential part of American combat history comes to life with the production value of one of the best dog fight directors in motion pictures.  The creator of the Star Wars films gives Red Tails a feeling of spectacular realism, even if the film comes across as a traditional war film, in the classic, pre-Apocalypse Now sense.   The characters represented in the 332nd Fighter Group run the spectrum of any team.  From the hot-tempered hot-shot, Lightning (Oyelowo), his straight-laced, but alchohic buddy Easy (Parker), the religious Deacon (Paulk) to the musical Smokey (Ne Yo), there is a safe, bland quality to all the portrayals.  They his all the notes, but without any modern social tics or “adjustments,” to make the characters seem, you know, hip.  This is a net positive.

In this way, Terrence Howard fits perfectly as Col. A.J. Bullard, the “old man,” who works to get the Airmen better assignments, while Gooding Jr. works the cigar cliché to the maximum.  While adding not so much to this film, at least Cuba is not doing Boat Trip 2, or Daddy Day Camp 2.  The mission here, is to give the film a feeling for the time, and they do this quite well.

The part of the film getting the most play is the aerial dog fighting.  The shot perspectives are reminiscent of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith in the way that the focus of the action can move without cut scenes.  It is exhilarating and seems more realistic.  This looks great on a bigger screen, but plays well no matter how one views it.

The accuracy of any film “inspired by true events” is always in question, but from what I have read, the differences were not egregious in the Ron Howard /A Beautiful Mind kind of way.  Lucas is not trying to win Oscar awards with almost completely false stories, like Howard.  He wants to show us American men that truly were heroes.  This film is a necessary addition to the lore of American WWII history.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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