Red Tails review

Before and after the second world war, African-Americans suffered constant abuse at the hands of racist white Americans. But even when men were supposed to unite against a common enemy, there was no respite from this. Given second string duties and treated as second string humans, the black soldier was seen to be a soldier of little or no worth. One to be kept out of the way so that the real Americans can do the fighting.

This is the story of a group of young black pilots, led by “Easy” (Parker) put through the Tuskagee training program that was essentially a socio experiment to try and enable them to prove their worth.  We find them based in Italy flying missions across empty fields and areas where no German’s have been sighted for some time.  They are waiting for that one chance to go into battle and show that they are as good as any pilot that fought for a country they love and is yet to love them back.

Red Tails is George Lucas back with Rick McCallum (Star Wars prequels) producing together to bring us visual style but lacking depth and heart.  They have taken a screenplay that, in the right hands, could have been crafted into one of the year’s best films.  Unfortunately what we are left with is something written with a great idea but struggled to really flesh it out.

We were presented with a number of ideas that could have been delved into more deeply such as the potential alcoholism of Easy, the love story between a young black pilot and a white Italian girl and, the central piece to the film, the first hand struggles of the pilots.  Each was given fleeting moments to show they were there but nothing was really followed through.

The love interest in particular turned out to be forced and ultimately unnecessary.  Had they given us something more believable then this may have been a worthwhile sub-plot.   As it was, it remained almost an afterthought.

The racial attitudes of the white soldiers were glossed over with short scenes that were never followed through.  And the redemption of turning some soldiers around was explored in barely mentioned relationships where a simple sentence was used to demonstrate their change in attitudes.

That’s the bad stuff out of the way, now onto the positives that the film had to offer.  After an opening sequence where the acting and dialogue was so bad I was worried about what I was in for.  And then when the credit “and Cuba Gooding Jr” flashed up, my heart sank.  Thankfully, a few annoying characters aside, the performances were all decent and in turn crafted likeable characters whom you found yourself rooting for.  The dialogue was often shaky but the interplay between the soldiers was entertaining, if lightweight and somewhat clichéd.  

The battle sequences were very well handled but lacked something that created any real tension.  Part of this was down to the pure predictability of the film where they used every trick in the book to bring in an emotional punch (someone might as well have said “I just got married the day before I enrolled”).  But true to Lucasfilm style, emotion was not a strong point in this film.  Which is a shame as this was a story that should have been served by the battle against the odds, the hardships overcome and the inner demons that some of these pilots obviously faced.   

As it is Red Tails was an entertaining but ultimately hollow film which will be watched and likely quickly forgotten.  There’s not enough good about it to say it’s anything more than average but there’s also not enough bad about it to have particularly disliked it.  It just sits on the proverbial fence thinking it’s something that it isn’t.

Red Tails at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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