One-Two Movie Review: Red Tails

January 27, 2012

Columbus, MS, Entertainment, News

Red Tails

by Jed Pressgrove and Invino Veritas

Review (Pressgrove):

Verdict: No Gangstas or Tokens Here

Red Tails, an action film about the Tuskegee airmen in World War II, is a small victory for American blacks. The film concerns brave and honorable black men who made a difference. This simple idea is bold for our mainstream movie culture that routinely portrays blacks as criminal (District 9), debased (Precious) or insignificant (Thor, X-Men: First Class). Unlike Glory’s insistence on a popular white lead, Red Tails allows lesser known black actors like Nate Parker, David Oyelowo and Elijah Kelly to share the screen with Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr.

This film wouldn’t have happened without producer George Lucas, who told Daily Show host Jon Stewart that he wanted to make an old-fashioned war film for boys. Lucas approached several Hollywood studios with Red Tails, but they all refused to release it because they didn’t think a movie with a predominantly black cast could make money. In its first weekend, Red Tails made close to $20 million, roughly what Lucas was hoping for. While this figure is tiny compared to the first weekend grosses of Lucas’ disenchanting Star Wars prequels, the implications it may have for our movie culture outweighs profit.

At the same time, it’s shameful it took this long to take such a small step. Although Red Tails shows us how young black pilots proved white racism wrong in the 1940s, Lucas and director Anthony Hemingway fail to address the discrimination the Tuskegee airmen faced after the war.

All the same, David Oyelowo as pilot Joe “Lightning” Little is a revelation. I can’t think of another black role in current mainstream cinema that represents heroism and courage so well. Watching Oyelowo in his final scene is electrifying; I got the sense a legend had been born before my eyes. Red Tails does not convey the entire struggle of the Tuskegee airmen, but it undoubtedly captures the spirit, camaraderie and — most importantly — sacrifice of black patriots and the pride that should go along with all of that.

As critics have said, Red Tails has one-dimensional characters, corny dialogue and an unimaginative plot. Let’s keep something in mind, though: some of these familiar positive elements aren’t common for black characters in mainstream American cinema. To critique Red Tails for giving black males a fair shake is unfortunate. This movie of black heroism could have made more money through positive word if critics had a better idea of what they were actually watching — reparations to black character, not unoriginality. It’s also telling that many of these same critics praised Precious, a film that characterizes dark skin as inferior (notice that successful black characters in Precious have lighter skin).

I’m not saying Red Tails is the definitive black film (for one thing, the movie says nothing about the experience of black women). And I’m not saying it couldn’t have been better. But if this movie teaches one boy, no matter his color, that black men are legitimate heroes, Lucas’ best intentions have come through.

Review (Veritas):

Verdict: Shoots High But Flies Low

Sunday. I woke up as usual — several hours later than I had intended, but not wholly disappointed as it was the weekend. Somewhere in the back of my mind was a day divided between sloth and frolic, and only partially planned in the previous few days. The first plan of action: play some online video games. Check. But as these sort of things have a tendency to transpire, I soon found myself running late. I just finished the next level and was well on my way to exacting my revenge upon a horde of demons from the pit of Hell when I got the call. The text message said, “I will be there at 1:50.” I knew I had to get moving. Quickly extinguishing the evil creatures that appeared in my gun’s sights, I found myself still behind schedule. I texted a reply at 1:39 pm, “I’m hopping in the shower now.” The plan was to make the picture show at 2 pm. I felt as if I might have set a land-speed record; I was in the car by 1:55 pm. By 2 pm, I was walking through the parking lot and on my way to getting my ticket. The objective: Red Tails, the new George Lucas film about the Tuskegee squadron that led a bombing raid on Berlin in 1944.

Meeting with my cohort and fellow moviegoers, the lights soon came down and the movie began. In typical Hollywood fashion, the music was grandiose and almost overbearing. I couldn’t help but to think that the score was intended to bring about some emotional response, but I laid my senses low and anticipated the movie’s entry point. I have to admit: the dialogue in Red Tails was pretty poor. There’s plenty of room for an upgrade in the script in the areas of conversation between the main characters. Just when I thought some profound statement was on the verge of erupting on the screen, it was dulled with an overwhelming feeling of disappointment of forced, overplayed normalcy and themes. This was not a good start to a movie that I built into my mind to be a breaking point for George Lucas, veering obversely from the Star Wars stigma. There was plenty of movie to ensue, however, so I stuck with it.

Red Tails centers on a small group of African-American pilots who were given the arduous and inglorious duties of flying menial tasks in Italy. The focus of the first half of the movie is one of transition from a team of ragtag flyers, who are passed over for meaningful missions to one that is more meaningful and eventually leads the charge of American bombers into Berlin towards the end the war. The movie builds upon a couple of themes. One obvious theme is the racial stereotypes during the war and the treatment of African-Americans in wartime by the soldiers. The second theme is the expectations and political stonewalling of the squadron and their abilities by the top brass. There is a novel sense of duty and camaraderie that is portrayed by the Colonel as he fights for his men to be given the chance, and that is something that can’t be denied easily. It’s nice to see George Lucas transition from a purely fictional world, with all manners of wild and wonderful inventions of fantasy and imagination, to one of historical relevance. But as the viewer is drawn away from the action-packed dogfights in the skies and the daring exploits by renegade pilots, there is an unfortunate return to the reality that Hollywood has injected their formula in the characters. The droll interaction of the characters and the banality of a formulaic approach to movie making makes for a very predictable ride.

Red Tails would have been fine without the love interest, and the tragedy in the storyline could have taken place with the same poignancy and substantiation. When is Hollywood going to realize that good movies don’t have to involve a love-related plot element? On the whole, if George Lucas wants to appeal to young boys as he stated while he was promoting the film, maybe he should steer away from too much of this everyday theme. Personally, I believe the most important part of the movie was not the realization that the squadron would chaperon the bombers to Berlin, but the acceptance of the African-American fighter pilots by the white bomber pilots inviting their fellow soldiers into the bar for a drink. At that point, our heroes are no longer African-American pilots, but rather soldiers and equals. No other scene dignifies the message and exemplifies the spirit of the movie better than that particular scene. But one saving grace is that there will be more movies. As Lucas said in a recent interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, “…there is a prequel and a sequel, and they are better than this movie by a long shot.” Well, George, I hope that’s true, because this sort of thing can’t survive on the same tired formula that has be regurgitated by Hollywood for years when it comes to characters. With that said, I did like Red Tails, but I wouldn’t expect any Oscar nominations from this piece. But I’m looking forward to the next installments to see where the story takes us, the viewers. Overall, I give this movie a C+ — not great, but not bad.

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One Comment on “One-Two Movie Review: Red Tails”

  1. bumberjack Says:

    I casn still remember going down hyway 69 to templeton gulf station just before the air port entrence and listening to the Col. tell about his exploy dureing W W !! and the stories were so instering, and to hear him tell of the w w !! bomer pilots tell the young whipper snapker just comeing over to the war front, and being told that this one or that one guided them safely over and back from a boming run, and how many told them about the safe ru8n that they had. I got chewed out many of times when i took a radiator down to him to repair, instead of going down to the other shop of hy 182 by jacks Hambuger joint and the col. charged us cheeper then the other shop. in miss the godays

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