George Lucas’ latest production a film which celebrates the Tuskegee Airmen (the first group of African American pilots to fight in a war during World War II) entitled “Red Tails” is more than just a depiction of the stories of these men, but is a film that is about showing what it takes to gain respect in a society in which respect was based on skin color. The film itself avoids coming across as simply a lengthy historical drama, focusing more or the Airmen’s aerial battles thanks to Aaron McGruder and John Ridley’s script along with direction from Anthony Hemingway (HBO’s The Wire) .
McGruder who is best known for his comic strip turned cartoon series “The Boondocks”, chose to create a comic book feel, reminiscent of the pulp magazines of the 1950’s with the screenplay for Red Tails, in which the film certainly gives the comic book feel that he was looking to achieve.
But beyond the aerial flight battles created through the use of CGI, the actors themselves do a good job in helping to make the audience care about the characters both during battle and when on the ground out of harm’s way. In crafting the characters from real life stories most of the characters ultimately end up being young college aged black men who still have a lot of growing up to do, and in joining the Tuskegee program ultimately become men. The film focuses on a specific group of fighter pilots within the Tuskegee program which is led by Marty “Easy” Julian (played by Nate Parker), a leader who wants to kept everything easy-going within the unit, striving to make sure his men stick to orders, while at the same time relying on alcohol to cope with the struggles of being responsible for his men . The group also includes Joe “Lightening” Little (David Oyelewo), who is Easy’s fast-acting, show-off friend in the unit, Ray “Junior” Gannon (Tristan Wilds), Samuel “Joker” George (Elijah Kelley), Andrew “Smokey” Salem (Ne-Yo), David “Deke” Watkins (Marcus T. Paulk),and Maurice Wilson (Michael B Jordan).Oyelewo carries the film as Lightening until his last scene really bringing the character’s different layers to life giving a believable performance in each of the scenarios that his character is presented with.Oyelowo also does a pretty good job in bringing to light how his character realizes the consequence of his pride. The film does get across the protectiveness (especially in Parker’s performance as Easy) and brotherhood that the characters have for each other both when fighting and when on the ground. There is a story arc with one of the main characters in which he has so much to lose and so much to live for, yet his own actions cause him to lose it all and the development of this story arc with the character makes the audience connect in some way emotionally. Although listed on posters for the film compared with the previous actors mentioned Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard’s roles as Colonel AJ Bullard (Howard), and Major Emanuelle Stance (Gooding)are in a sense limited, however Howard’s character ends up being crucial to the success of the Airmen as he serves as the direct connection with the government, having the ultimate power to persuade the government not to shut the Tuskegee program down. Howard plays his role with a degree of boldness.
The dynamic aerial fight scenes in the film are clear, exciting and full of action, the crafting of these scenes draws the viewer in is what really brings life to the film when the film starts dragging during scenes of little activity. The dialogue within the aerial fight scenes could be a little better however. When the Airmen try to mix humor and brief chitchat about social life while waiting to attack an enemy it adds to show their humanity, however on the other hand when the antagonist German fighter pilot referred to as “Pretty Boy”, shouts out the line “Oh My God, They’re Africans” when first realizing the Airmen were black it comes across with a bit of ignorance and not disdain (as was probably meant). The aerial combat scenes are shown in a way that moves the audience to want the Airmen to defeat the enemy, not just because of what we’ve known before seeing the film, but because of the character’s actions both during the Dogfight scenes and when not in the war zone.
Where “Red Tails”, lacks is mainly in dialogue.The context of the dialogue focuses a lot on the racism that the Tuskegee Airmen had to endure from a political standpoint. But at times it feels that the dialogue and words used doesn’t fit the time period, and sounds a bit too modern. Also the dialogue is full of self-awareness in regards to race and racism especially with lines such as the line “I guess there’s a lot more to you coloreds than we thought” which a white imprisoned soldier says to a fellow Airman who was imprisoned. The dialogue is just right at certain moments however which end up foreshadowing the fate of certain characters, as well as during scenes when a slightly light-hearted comedic commentary on segregation between the races is needed mainly delivered by Ne-Yo’s character Smokey and Kelly’s character Joker.
Also there could have been a bit more depth to some of the characters. We learn the backstory and see the development of a few of the main characters like “Easy”, but then there are other characters that we never really learn anything about including Major Stance and Colonel Bullard.
Red Tails ultimately is a success in that it is a fun action film that gives a glimpse into not exactly all of the things that happened to the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, but captures the essence of the atmosphere of what it would have been like for these men striving to fight, and then really defending the country during the time when racism was so very prominent against those men.