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Movie Review: 'Red Tails'

Red Tails

Starring Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terence Howard
Directed by Anthony Hemingway
Rated PG

Some people say action films are nothing but mindless movies running around without a heart and soul with the protagonist set out to accomplish one thing - defeat the antagonist and his henchmen.  Transformers is a film that fits that criteria, same with Crank and countless others.  There are other action films with a heart, mind and soul, like last years Drive (though Drive is walking a very fine line between action and drama).  And then they’re films like Red Tails.  The story is horribly portrayed, the characters aren’t well rounded, the director lacks any motivation, the editing is slovenly spliced, the acting is C-grade, at best, and the action is unexciting and stale. 


Red Tails tells the story of a group of Tuskegee airmen stationed in Italy in 1944 at the height of the second World War.  We’re introduced to Easy (Nate Parker), the squad leader, Lightning (David Oyelowo), the risk taker, Joker (Elijah Kelly), the joker, Junior (Tristan Wilds), the youngster eager to prove his worth, and Smokey (Ne-Yo), the singer.  Lightning and Easy have their vices; Easy is a drunk who makes the wrong choices and later feels nothing but contempt for himself.  Lightning lives his life on the edge, taking risks that could very well end his life and possibly the lives of his squad-mates.  There isn't much to these characters making them about as one dimensional as the period that ends this sentence.


They are being mistreated by the white higher ups, receiving hand-me-down planes and going on pointless, yet highly dangerous missions.  Usually a film follows a set of rules where we are introduced to the characters, we understand the problem, there’s a climax and thus the film concludes with the resolution.  That is not the case here.  We never spend any quality time with these characters, we are never quite sure who the real enemy is, and we never really know how they solve their problems. I never once felt the Germans were a threat, just another obstacle to overcome.  The opening sequence was supposed to show the skill of the German fighter pilots, but instead we are slapped in the face with titles that block the action from ever being clearly seen. 



The lack of direction also killed it for me.  Director Anthony Hemingway seems uninspired, as if he was forced to direct this film against his will.  Hemingway has a tremendous portfolio working as a second assistant director and as a television director.  His inexperience as a feature film director not only shows on screen but bleeds.  Nate Parker and David Oyelowo, the two leads, are great with each other, bouncing their lines back and forth with each other.  I could truly believe they were the best of friends. However, the film is so focused on dogfights that not much characterization is presented, and we never feel any real compassion for anyone.  I never once felt excited when a German plane was engulfed in flames and left feeling cold when a Tuskegee airman was shot.  Was I supposed to feel something as Deke or Ray Gun or Junior was shot down?


Red Tails really has set back African American cinema, further than any Tyler Perry film I've seen.  The CGI is great and will probably receive an Oscar Nom for them but that’s all it has going for it, though the drama never elevates itself passed a made-for-tv movie. 

As I said before, the editing of the film felt slovenly put together, while the transitioning from scene to scene is frustrating beyond belief.  Every scene ends with either a wipe or a fade, as though it was the love-child of a Star Wars film.


The Tuskegee Airmen are some of the most inspiring men ever to grace the ARMY or any other military.  They beat the odds and overcame diversity. However, Red Tails, doesn’t give these men justice. There are many things wrong with this film, many things.  As you sit in the theater, you wander off and imagine what else could your twenty dollars be used for.  Maybe buying Legos and recreating the second world war.  That’s what I would do; my film would be so much more enjoyable and the acting wouldn’t be so plastic-y.




Second Thoughts:  I stand by what I said before despite my harsh words.  The film had a lot going for it, George Lucas pulling the strings, ILM behind the stellar effects, and a young, hopeful cast.  I actually went into the film with low expectations thinking maybe if I set the bar low I would enjoy the film a lot more.  I was wrong and the film, the longer it went, the more restless I became.  The problem with the film is that it depends too much on the computer generated imaging to move the story forward instead of spending more time with the characters.  The cast seems to have spent a great deal of time with one another as their energy and chemistry oozes off of the silver screen but an underwritten script destroys everything it has going for it. The fighter planes have more personality and development than Lighting and Easy despite being the central characters.  I tried to think about the film now and I could barely remember anything.  Bryan Cranston is terribly wasted and you won't even remember his performance as it's quick, broad, and underused.  I could go on all day about this, especially Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr.'s sub par performances, however, I think my utter disappointment (or hatred from your standpoint) is displayed.  I stand by my words and my rating.  Tell me what you guys think in the comments below.  Everyone has a certain opinion and I would like to read yours.  

Reader Comments (2)

Sundance and Cannes are also the right place to become the top in their field. These hot docs film festivals are the boon of Indie award winning documentaries.

Monday, January 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertelugumovies1

You TOTALLY missed this as the old-fashioned, jingoistic World War Two era flag-waver that this stylistically emulates. Yes there's soundtrack music that sounds like it's from the Ace Combat video games and yes, it probably would have helped if they would have COMPLETELY styled this like "Air Force" and "The Dam Busters". The point was to rouse a crowd for the heroics as oposed to illuminating or examining the racial challenges as so many agitprop tv movies did in the past. Somewhere out there probably IS a better movie, but this will stand in, and has enough in it to lead into further reading or discussion on the subject, until that movie arrives.

Monday, January 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJ.Bradley

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