In Home Viewings: "Red Tails"

As America’s involvement in World War II deepened, military leaders became more desperate to find an edge and finish the fight. As such, the Air Force turned to a group of black pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Having been previously shunned and denied the right to fight for their countries, these pilots, under the command of Colonel AJ Bullard (Terrence Howard), had been pushed to the limit and trained harder than virtually any group in the military. Finally given an opportunity to serve, the Tuskegee Airmen were thrown into the midst of the fray and given the most dangerous missions the war had to offer through which they were able to not only make a name for themselves in the sky but also to demonstrate the ignorance behind the discrimination they faced on the ground.

Most people these days know a thing or two about the Tuskegee Airmen. They are some of the bravest men this country has ever known and their legacy is one that will live on long after they themselves have gone on. They deserve much better than Red Tails.

There are only two positive things I can say about this movie:

1.) The dogfights are, at times, quite stunning. The vast, VAST, majority of the movie’s $58 million budget was clearly spent on special effects and while these shots don’t exactly operate with much realism, they are visually compelling.
2.) Red Tails tries hard. It is, if nothing else, an honest effort to honor the pilots and illustrate just what they went through. This is most readily evident in the earnestness of the narrative and the performance of Howard and a couple of others in the cast.

The problem is that everything else that does not involve this film’s special effects or its laborious effort is an absolute bloody disaster. Even for a George Lucas production, the dialogue is particularly atrocious in both actual terminology and general approach. It is perhaps the thickest, most heavy-handed script I could possibly imagine. Red Tails desperately wants you to know that these men faced a tremendous amount of racism and boy, does this movie lay it on thick when it wants to get a point across. Virtually every line spoken by a non-Airman is stripped down to its most basic level with no allowance for exposition or a differentiation in tone. Even the German pilot who vexes the Red Tails for a time speaks entirely in mono-syllabic, monotone terms, including such gems as “Those pilots are African.” In all honesty the worst dialogue from the Star Wars prequels is better than what Red Tails has to offer, a shocking statement that I never thought I’d never get to make.

Just like the script, the characters at work within Red Tails are overly earnest and paper thin. Nate Parker is decent in his role as the squadron’s leader but no favors are thrown his way by the rough plot points he has to work with. Most of the other actors, however, measure up to the level of the narrative and at times it was all I could do not to turn the TV off. I can’t really blame David Oyelowo, Gerald McRaney, Cuba Gooding Jr. and the rest for the various lackluster turns the actors provide as any movie that can make Bryan Cranston look bad probably wasn’t going to work even with Oscar-caliber performances. But at the same time, these portrayals are often cringe-inducing and they certainly do nothing to pull this movie up from the muck it seems all too content to slide around in. It really is a shame because, again, these soldiers deserve to be memorialized on film in ways that Red Tails can’t possibly hope to attain. In truth it really doesn’t get just a whole lot worse than this.