Release Date: January 20, 2012
Directed by: Anthony Hemingway
Genre: Action, Adventure, and Drama
Stars: 2.5 out of 5
‘Red Tails’ tells a fictionalized story of the Tuskegee Airmen from World War II. The Airmen were an all-black Air Squadron at a time when black men were still thought to “lack the intelligence to operate heavy machinery,” as noted in the film. The Airmen proved everyone wrong by operating some pretty heavy machinery-airplanes.
Though the main protagonist is Col. A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard), the real centerpiece of the film isn’t so much the humans as the action. Producer George Lucas (the Star Wars trilogies) said from the start that he wanted to make this a larger-than-life action movie in the vein of comic books. He wildly succeeded at this, since much of ‘Red Tails’ features intense fighter pilot scenes and plenty of the high-tech CGI you would expect from a Lucas production.
Due to it being a Lucas production, the movie has suffered from comparisons to the ‘Star Wars’ movies. It does not help that Lucas himself recently said in an interview that it was “as close as you’ll get to Episode VII.” The comparisons to the two trilogies are unfortunate because they have little in common. ‘Red Tails’ is best viewed on its own merit as an action film based on the true story of the Tuskegee Airmen.
In the movie, the audience is introduced to Bullard and Major Stance (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) who lead the Airmen into the many air combat scenes. Though these two are portrayed as the heroes who struggled to get the U.S. Army Air Corps (the Air Force had yet to exist) to form the Airmen crew, that struggle is never really portrayed in the movie. This is where history buffs may likely take issue with the film. ‘Red Tails’ does not go into great detail about the actual history of the Tuskegee Airmen or any of the events leading up to their formation. It glosses over some of the struggle, bitterness and emotions that result from such battles. Anytime a reference is made to the actual history, it feels more like a way to get the plot moving towards another air combat sequence.
Those looking for a fact-based movie about the Airmen should look elsewhere. Though the Tuskegee Airmen were real, these characters and their dialogue are all fictionalized versions of those men and events. The audience will not have any historical takeaways from the film. The period costumes and set pieces are the most accurate part of the movie, and they are truly stunning in their beauty and authenticity.
What viewers will take away from ‘Red Tails’ is a fantastic action movie that is highly entertaining. The combat flight sequences are a marvel to the eye. They are fast-paced and staged in a way that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Though there is some obvious CGI, it does not take away from the film. Instead it enhances and produces some fairly breath-taking action scenes that are the real jewel of the film.
Though historians may not like this particular account of the Airmen, they were never supposed to. Lucas and director Anthony Hemingway (HBO’s Treme) made it clear from the start that this is a stylized action film. The intensity of the action and unflinching bravery of the Airmen make this a fitting tribute to them, even if it is not completely based in fact. You may not get a history lesson watching ‘Red Tails’ but you will be highly entertained and walk away with a new respect for the role these pioneering men played in helping the Allies secure victory during World War II.