Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Red Tails (2012) Dir. Anthony Hemingway

I, like many people I am sure, wasn't paying much attention to Red Tails.  I had seen the trailer and thought, "Okay, a WWII airmen movie about black pilots.  That's cool."  I had been familiar with the Tuskegee program but didn't know much more about the unit or its exploits in the European air war.  Truth be told, I had shrugged off seeing it because Cuba Gooding Jr. was in it.  Plus from the previews I figured it would be an uplifting tale about men being awesome even when the odds are stacked against them.  Paint by numbers WWII airmen movie a la Memphis Belle (1990).  When it comes down to it, Red Tails is simply a paint by numbers flyboy movie (if you're familiar with the genre then you'll probably only be in it to watch the aerial combat).

What sets Red Tails apart from its ilk is that the film focuses on Black airmen and their struggles to be recognized as equals in the eyes of white servicemen, the brass, and a society that systematically denied opportunities for equality.  Frankly Glory (1989) did it better, with a more convincing set of characters, and better dialogue.  I certainly don't have a problem with the subject matter of the film or treatment but Red Tails felt, for lack of a better term, safe.  On one hand, I enjoyed the film and cheered at the right points and laughed the right points and teared up at the right points but on the other I kind of winced at some scenes of white and black pilots coming together and the moments of "fight with your mind, not your fists" dialogue.  While I wasn't expecting (or hoping for) some kind of Spike Lee polemic I didn't expect such a two dimensional film.  Then again, it didn't need to be a political race movie because it ultimately was about pilots being awesome.

Terence Blanchard's score was pretty lacklustre but Anthony Hemingway and his technical staff put together a great looking movie.  Having the backing of Lucasfilm definitely showed because the aerial sequences were pretty bad-ass and I had a good time recognizing planes that I grew up knowing the names and makes of.  Seeing the ME-262 (the German jet that appeared near the end of the war) in action made me really happy, because ME-262s are fucking awesome.  Seriously, look them up.  Jet fighters in WWII.  Awesome.

I don't know why everyone went googly-moogly about Lucas being one of the executive producers.  He didn't write the script or the story based on John B. Holway's book.  He didn't direct it or edit it.  The reviewer on imdb is right about lots of the fallacies and might be right about the Tuskegee Airmen deserving a better movie but I'm not sure why he (or other reviewers - positive and negative) are putting such import on Lucas.  There's a bunch of stuff about Lucas on the Red Tails wiki but I'm not interested enough in reading it.

Not world's most memorable air combat movie but not one of the worst either.  I guess the best thing about this movie for me is if some kid gets interested in WWII aircraft because of it or wants to learn more about the Tuskegee Project, that's pretty cool.  As far as making an effort to see it?  Wait until it's streaming on netflix or someone else wants to pay for the rental or you've run out of airplane movies to watch.

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