Giovanni's Movie Review: RED TAILS
Published: January 19, 2012 - 8:25am
“War is hell, but what we’re doing is boring as hell” quips a fighter pilot in the new World War II film Red Tails, and how I wish that were simply the case. How I wish Red Tails turned out to be like most war stories, bogged down with clichés and inflated national pride. At least that type of movie successfully honors the hard work and courage of the troops who went into battle. But this film, the first directorial outing for Anthony Hemmingway, goes below the call of duty and actually demeans anyone who’s ever fought for their country. I do not say this lightly: Red Tails is one of the worst war movies ever made.
The story is based on the inspiring, true tale of the Tuskegee Airmen; though you’ll be more moved after reading the historic fliers' Wikipedia entry than you will be after siting through this two hour film. The Tuskegee were a group of African American fighter pilots in World War II who were seen as inferior by 1940’s racist America. Red Tails focuses on the group’s 1944 missions in Italy, as they banded together to prove themselves and help the war effort overseas. It’s a shame that instead of being depicted as fearless, dedicated soldiers, the airmen here are as deep as teenagers playing Call of Duty.
There are countless reasons for this failure, but the main ones seem to stem from the poor script and LucasFilm’s hand in the production. The studio is famous for making light, campy popcorn flicks where good is "Great!" and bad is "Evil!". But their simple, black-and-white storytelling is actually offensive in this context. It sucks all humanity from war, turning it into a video game with no emotional repercussions. The screenplay, penned by John Ridley, even manages to depict Nazis more insensitively than 1940’s propaganda reels. At one point, the pilots decide -- without receiving any orders to do so -- to surprise attack an enemy airbase, mowing down dozens of unsuspecting German troops. Triumphant, and unforgivably cheesy, music plays as German soldiers run around on fire and are blown through the air by explosions. It plays out more like a CG-laden, emotionless massacre than a well fought battle. You’d expect a smidge of sensitivity from a film about intolerance.
The studio’s signature overuse of CGI also rears its incredibly ugly head here, with all of the flying and dogfights rendered with special effects. The cartoonlike images and preposterous explosions are jarring, making the film feel less like World War II and more like one of the Star Wars prequels. This makes sense when reading a recent interview with George Lucas in the New York Times, where he describes the film’s target audience as “teenagers.” It’s meant to be light-hearted and fun. But isn’t likening real war to The Clone Wars irresponsible considering these are kids are reaching the age where they can enlist in our Armed Forces?
Political and moral concerns aside, the film isn’t good entertainment in the first place. The storytelling is outdated, the technical work is hastily done, and there’s better dialogue writing in StarFox 64. But most importantly, the over exaggerated, cheesy performances destroy any hope for the movie. And it’s hard to blame the cast, comprised of many non-actors like singer Ne-yo. They’re just taking orders, after all. The blame unfortunately falls on Anthony Hemmingway’s direction, which feels like it’s from a galaxy, or just a decade, far, far away. It’s not nostalgic, or light; it’s cornball to the point of feeling alien.
Minorities who have struggled to be accepted as equals deserve better than this. Men and women who have fought to protect their country deserve better with this. And audiences who pay incredibly inflated ticket prices just to see a film that’s even mildly tolerable deserve better than this. Red Tails is offensive on all fronts, delivering a war film that’s about as entertaining as watching an online, multiplayer video game match, but with less maturity and worse graphics.
Produced by George Lucas and directed by Anthony Hemingway, Red Tails stars Cuba Gooding, Jr., Terrence Howard, Nate Parker, David Oyelowo and Tristan Wilds and is scheduled for theatrical release on January 20th, 2012.
"1944. World War II rages and the fate of the free world hangs in the balance. Meanwhile the black pilots of the experimental Tuskegee training program are courageously waging two wars at once -- one against enemies overseas, and the other against discrimination within the military and back home. Racial prejudices have long held ace airman Martin "Easy" Julian (Nate Parker) and his black pilots back at base -- leaving them with little to do but further hone their flying skills -- while their white counterparts are shipped out to combat after a mere three months of training. Mistakenly deemed inferior and assigned only second-rate planes and missions, the pilots of Tuskegee have mastered the skies with ease but have not been granted the opportunity to truly spread their wings. Until now.
As the war in Europe continues to take its dire toll on Allied forces, Pentagon brass has no recourse but to reconsider these under-utilized pilots for combat duty. Just as the young Tuskegee men are on the brink of being shut down and shipped back home, Col. A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard) awards them the ultimate chance to prove their mettle high above. Undaunted by the prospect of providing safe escort to bombers in broad daylight -- a mission so dangerous that the RAF has refused it and the white fighter groups have sustained substantial losses -- Easy's pilots at last join the fiery aerial fray. Against all the odds, with something to prove and everything to lose, these intrepid young airmen take to the skies in a heroic endeavor to combat the enemy -- and the discrimination that has kept them down for so long.