After an arduous two decades, executive producer George Lucas and director Anthony Hemingway finally get to tell the heroic legend of the gallant and courageous Tuskegee Airmen’s gruelling struggle against the German Luftwaffe and the cruel institutional racism within the American military. Despite noble intentions, the film’s poignancy is plagued by predictability as clichés, one-dimensional characters and a script acutely deprived of drama defeats this valiant tale, prohibiting Red Tails from taking flight as an emotional voyage.
The film follows the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American fighter pilots in World War II. Enthusiastic to fight, the patriotic division aspire to combat Nazi oppression and tyranny in the skies whilst simultaneously liberating themselves from bigotry and racism on the ground. Under the command of the arrogant and ambitious Colonel A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard), the all-Negro 332nd Fighter squadron soar from mundane ‘mopping up floors’ missions in Italy to escorting the first U.S. bomber raid over Berlin in the assault on fascism.
Courtesy of Craig Hammock as the visual effects supervisor, the film does provide an impressive array of high-octane, acrobatic adventures in the air packed with gripping dog-fights, an abundance of spectacular explosions and a point-of-view perspective in the cockpit which truly absorbs the audience into the action.
Paramount to Red Tails fatal downfall is John Ridley’s and Aaron McGruder’s frankly woeful scripting. The film is infested with one-dimensional characters. Cuba Gooding, Jr. is tragically underused as Major Emanuel Stance whose only notable and resonating feature is his continuous pipe-smoking. Meanwhile, David Oyelowo (who appeared in the BBC drama Small Island; a miniseries with a vaguely similar narrative) plays the reckless maverick, Joe “Lightning” Little rather unconvincingly. Although Red Tails captures the solidarity and camaraderie between the protagonists it inexorably curtails any individual performance; a suffering born from the quality of the script.
The film weakly attempts to embed romance within the storyline through the portrayal of the relationship between Lightning and Sofia (Daniela Ruah) – an Italian girl whom Lightning spies and becomes instantly infatuated with – however this is never fully extended or properly engaged with.
Another fundamental flaw of Red Tails is its inherent failure to explore the gravity of the social injustice endured by the protagonists and the resistance of the military to abate the segregation. The characters seamlessly transcend from being ostracised by the white soldiers to being fully embraced and admired. During one scene, a bomber crew notices their new escorts are “coloured” to which they express their dismay. However, after the Red Tails demonstrate their bravado the bomber crew – instantly relinquishing their adherence to the racial doctrines they have been manipulated to uphold – exclaim, “I hope we meet up with those Red Tails again.” In essence, the film doesn’t do justice in examining the injustice suffered by the real Tuskegee airmen.
Red Tails attempts to create an inspirational and emotionally sentimental tale of bravery in the face of adversity and liberation from the chains of bigoted oppression; however, the adventure in the skies is not coupled with groundbreaking drama on land.
Red Tails (2012), directed by Anthony Hemingway, is distributed by Twentieth Century Fox in the USA. There is currently no official UK release date. Check the film’s IMDB page for more the latest release information.