{2jtab: Movie Review}

Red Tails - Movie Review

3 stars

Overtly throwback and unapologetically patriotic, Red Tails is the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a band of “colored personnel” who fought through racism in America to fly as fighter pilots over Europe for the Army Air Corps during World War II.

Though rooted in history, the story being told in Red Tails isn’t the one about the American civil rights movement, nor is it meant be an influential rallying cry to stop the scourge of racism. Instead, Red Tails is simply a gung-ho, crowd-pleasing action/adventure flick with themes of dedication, sacrifice, and courage at its core… an homage to great men. It’s easy to overlook that entertainment value by searching for something more grandiose.

In a two-year period between 1943 and 1945, The Tuskegee airmen, officially known as the 332nd Fighter Group, shot down more than a hundred German aircraft, including three ME 262’s (one of the first German jet planes used in combat), earned 96 distinguished Unit Citations and numerous Silver Stars, Purple Hearts, and hundreds of other awards and medals. The statistics and impact the Tuskegee airmen had on the war are quite well known. A 1995 made-for-TV-movie and a 2002 documentary, both oddly called The Tuskegee Airmen, have highlighted their gallantry with amazing accuracy and intimate detail.  What we haven’t seen is an old-fashioned depiction of their glory told in the style of a good ol’ classic war movie. Until now.

George Lucas has had the Tuskegee film idea rattling around in his bouffant-ed noggin for some twenty-odd years but hadn’t been able to nail down the necessary studio financing to bring the film to the big screen. It even got so bad as to have a no-show from one studio exec when Lucas screened the film at Skywalker Ranch. While many will argue his deterioration of filmmaking skills since Episode 6 is at the root of the snub, Lucas claims Hollywood has just been turning its back on a film that stars an almost all African-American cast. Not to be deterred from getting his story out there however, Lucas just footed the $100 million bill from his own pocket, and Red Tails is the result.

Red Tails employs breathtaking aerial combat footage and nail-biting high-command stand-offs to draw the viewer into the film. And while the majority of its runtime is spent in the air, screenwriter John Ridley’s plot (under the direction of Anthony Hemingway) manages to work in many of the classic tropes we’ve come to expect from our war movies. There are the reckless flyboys who throw caution to the wind, the whiskey-swilling squadron captain, the evil villain always spotted through the machine-gun crosshairs, and what would a war movie be without the forbidden romance between soldier and local villager?

Many will excoriate the film for its superficial examination of character, and one-dimensional, jingoistic dialogue, and there’s really no defending it other than to say those detractors may be looking for a bit too much from a full-on combat movie that goes for action first, and history lesson second. You’re not going to get an information-heavy lecture on the squadron’s historical importance, nor are well-rounded, real flesh-and-blood characters on the slate either. In fact, most are painted with broad strokes of generality, like Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s pipe-chomping Major Stance, David Oyelowo’s Joe “Lightning” Little who falls for an Italian girl, Terrence Howard’s Col. Bullard who battles racism in the stateside boardroom, lobbying for meatier missions, and Nate Parker’s Marty “Easy” Julian, who finds courage to lead the squadron from a bottle of Irish Whiskey. Too, the film’s PG-13 rating hobbles the reality factor significantly as these adrenaline-charged flyboys utter cornball phrases like, “Take that Mr. Hitler” as a Nazi enemy plane plunges to the earth, or “we hope to see you guys again” from B-27 pilots as the Tuskeegans pull away from formation after another successful bomber cover mission.

The film gets nearly all its lift from the rah-rah, lump-in-the-throat combat heroics, the Nazi ass kicking, and from the impressive aerial acrobatics… like nothing we’ve seen in a war film. Difficult to claim that action sequencing doesn’t remain in Lucas’s wheelhouse. It’s a beautiful thing to see a classic P-51 Mustang painted with the titular crimson tail go up against a deadly German Messerschmitt ME-109 with .50 cal. guns a-blazin’. And watching a B-28 “Flying Fortress” disintegrate in mid-air in such fiery detail is a true thing of beauty. However, the green-screen work and Industrial Light and Magic digital histrionics tend to be a bit too sharp, clean, and sterile for what should be gritty, down-and-dirty depiction of combat. Almost a bit too cartoonish, but breathtakingly affecting nonetheless.

Classic war movie fans, and vintage aircraft lovers will certainly find more to enjoy in Red Tails than the traditional film aficionado or history buff looking for a deep, impactful film running over with emotional gravitas. But when taken in with a healthy dose of retro sensibility (like how we used to tell WWII stories), we realize the Tuskegee Airmen now have the flag-waving, fist-pumping propaganda piece they can call their own.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Red Tails - Movie ReviewMPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sequences of war violence.
: Anthony Hemingway
: John Ridley
Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Nate Parker, Tristan Wilds, Daniela Ruah
Genre: Drama | War/Military
Red Tails
Memorable Movie Quote: "Take that, Mr. Hitler!"
Official Site:
Release Date:
January 20, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
May 22nd - Memorial Day!

Synopsis: A crew of African-American pilots in the Tuskegee training program, having faced segregation while kept mostly on the ground during World War II, are called into duty under the guidance of Col. A.J. Bullard.

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

Component Grades
Blu-ray Disc
3 stars
3 stars
Blu-ray Experience
3 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - May 22, 2012
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
: English SDH, Spanish
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); DVD copy



  • None

Special Features:

  • Double Victory: The Tuskegee Airmen at War
  • George Lucas: Executive Producer
  • Anthony Hemingway: Director
  • Terrance Blanchard: Composer
  • The Cast of Red Tails
  • Movie Magic

{2jtab: Trailer}