The story of the Tuskegee program that took place during World War II is an inspirational one. During a time of segregation and war, several African American men stood up for what they believed in. Not because they wanted to show off their personal talents or make a name for themselves, but because it was the brave and right thing to do. They helped change the way America looked at African Americans, not just as soldiers but as people. George Lucas made it his personal mission to fund a movie telling the tale and the result of all of his hard work and campaigning is Red Tails, a film that hangs on the important message of equality, but doesn’t really enhance the already bold story.
It’s World War II and America is at full-on war with Germany. The Nazi’s are successfully taking out America’s planes, using easy ploy tactics to lure them away from the bomber planes they’re assigned to protect. Men are continuing to die at an alarming rate and it’s time for a change. Colonel A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard) is training a group of African American fighter pilots in a program called Tuskegee. These men are some of the best flyers fighting for America, but because of the color of their skin they’re only given leftover missions that involve taking out low priority trains and automobiles.
They fly in old, beat up planes and have nothing to show for it. That is until Bullard manages to secure a mission that will go on to change the way African American’s are treated as soldiers and as men. Major Emanuelle Stance (Cuba Gooding Jr.) rounds up the best men he has; Marty “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker), Joe “Lightning” Little (David Oyelowo), Ray “Junior” Gannon (Tristan Wilds) and Samuel “Joker” George (Elijah Kelley). These men will later be known as the Red Tails; a fearless group of men that help protect their fellow soldiers at all costs, despite the lack of respect they’re given.
Red Tails has all of the makings to be a moving film, but it starts out very poorly, leaving the rest of the film feeling like a waste of a great story and the waste of a budget. The opening dialogue is atrocious. Each young actor delivers his line like he’s reading directly from a script, adding no emotion or reality to the scene. Their characters come across as dull, comatose and annoying. It isn’t until Terrence Howard graces the screen when you start to feel like you’re actually watching a movie and not a cold reading. Even Cuba Gooding Jr. fumbles with his brief, weightless appearances.
The film opens up on such a sour note. By the time it reaches cruising altitude the film is already 3/4th’s done. There’s no real motivation to get things going at the beginning, because you start to feel like you’re watching an amateur high school play, with one impressive budget. George Lucas has been flaunting this movie around like crazy. He’s mentioned a dozen times in interviews how personal this project is for him and that’s why most of the actors are unknowns. It really hurts the overall quality of the film though.
The special effects are very nice and the aerial sequences are structured well, but none of that really matters when your core group of characters is choking on simple lines left and right. Red Tails does pick up, both in terms of quality and story, but by that time it’s past the point of safety. The drama starts to come into play and you’re left feeling absolutely nothing. Not because of the story trying to be told, but because of the men trying to play these brave real-life people.
Red Tails was a big gamble for George Lucas and it pains me to say this, but it just didn’t work. He hired a TV director (Anthony Hemingway) to make a modestly budgeted motivational film and while I have to give Hemingway credit for his directorial duties, I can’t give him credit for getting some of the most stereotypically bad dialogue I’ve ever heard out of his actors during the film’s opening scenes. In his defense the film does get better, but the film starts out horrible and eases its way into sub-par.
The film feels bloated with its 2 hour running time and that’s troubling considering most of that time is used up in the sky where all of the action is. The second the men land their planes Red Tails starts to feel like a second rate TV drama. I give credit to George Lucas for funding the project and getting it all the way to the big screen, but why put all that time and money into it if you didn’t even look it over when it was done? Maybe he truly believes the film is perfect and if that’s the case I’m no longer looking forward to whatever he does next.
Red Tails – 6/10