johnlink ranks RED TAILS (2012)

This is the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the all-black 332d fighter group. George Lucas had been trying to get this project off the ground (if you’ll forgive the pun) since 1988. It took him 24 years to get it to the screen, though his role is limited to Executive Producer. This turned out to be the final film of LucasFilm before their acquisition by Disney.


I watched RED TAILS (2012) on 12.28.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

This is a movie which got knocked around quite a bit by the critics upon its release. It sits, as of this writing, with an average ranking of 5.8 on IMDB. RED TAILS is a better movie than that, and I can’t help but think that some of this backlash has to do with Lucas’ involvement. People still have not forgiven him for Jar-Jar Binks.

I’ll admit that I had a few trepidations about this film in the first act. Some of the expositional  dialogue is weak. The characters seem a little too obvious. Here is the angry black man. Here is the guy with Daddy issues. Here is the wise old commander. Here is the religious one. Here is the one who will provide comic relief.

The first act twist involves the group getting, finally, the respect of the American military at large. They are given the opportunity to get involved in some front line action. This kicks the movie into high gear, and the characters become much more multi-faceted as the film goes on. The angry black man turns out to be the romantic and the musician as well. The guy with Daddy issues who gets drunk before he flies also exemplifies courage. The religious one also becomes the victim.

The story, for the first two acts, mostly centers around the idea that these men are fighting for respect. Major turning points in this film occur when white men realize how lucky they are to fight alongside these guys. While this sometimes limits the scope of the film, since much of the context becomes ‘see we can do it too’, it also provides some of the great highwater marks of the film, such as when a group of officers invite the airmen in for a drink and a daring escape.

RED TAILS manages to transcend race in the final act, as race issues mostly fall away in favor of the characters stories beginning to resolve. The ending surprised me, even as I felt like I could watch these battle scenes for another hour.

The strength of this film lies in its performances. Especially the performance of David Oyelowo as Lightening (the aforementioned angry black man/romantic).  Despite being the wingman, this film becomes about him more than anybody else. While RED TAILS calls his bravura into question, it still holds him up higher than anyone else.

The squad, in general, is well acted. However, I wasn’t a huge fan of Terrence Howard’s Colonel Bullard. The script has him bellowing speeches every other time he is on screen. I don’t mind Howard’s performance, but I much prefer Cuba Gooding’s Major Stance as a character. His leadership is more subtle, more grounded, and it feels more substantial.

I’d heard mostly middling things about this film, except from my father who really appreciated it. I fall much more on his side than the cynical side. While I think the first act could have been much less clunky, and a few of the special effects shots felt much more modern than World War II,  I like where this film went. It was mostly well acted. It was a nice piece of historical fiction. And it was entertaining.






~ by johnlink00 on December 29, 2012.

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