PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
In 1944, after enduring racism throughout their recruitment and training in the Tuskegee training program, the 332d Fighter Group of young African American USAAF fighter pilots are finally sent into combat in Italy, although flying worn-out Curtiss P-40 Warhawk aircraft. Chafing at their ground attack missions against trains and enemy ground transport, the Tuskegee Airmen recognize that they may never fight the Luftwaffe in fighter-to-fighter combat. The tight-knit group of Joe “Lightning” Little (David Oyelowo), Martin “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker), Ray “Ray Gun” or “Junior” Gannon (Tristan Wilds), and Samuel “Joker” George (Elijah Kelley) under the guidance of Major Emanuel Stance (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) and Col. A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard), face a white military bureaucracy still resistant to accepting black flyers as equals.
Strife develops between roommates and best friends, Easy and Lightning, each of whom are battling their own inner demons; Lightning is a hotheaded and reckless pilot who takes too many risks, while Easy is an alcoholic prone to self doubt. After returning to base from a mission, Lightning spies a pretty Italian girl named Sofia (Daniela Ruah), becomes instantly infatuated with her, and starts a relationship.
Meanwhile, Stance is able to secure a chance to “light up the board” when the Tuskegee Airmen are chosen to support the Allied landings at Anzio, Italy known as Operation Shingle. There, they battle Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters led by a German ace pilot they nickname, “Pretty Boy” (Lars van Riesen), scoring their first aerial victories over the enemy, as well as destroying a German airfield. However, Ray Gun is injured during the battle and suffers impaired vision in one of his eyes. Ray Gun begs Easy to keep him on the flight roster who ultimately relents and allows him to keep flying.
Bullard is then approached by the USAAF Bomber Command, who are impressed with the Tuskegee Airmen’s performance and ask him to use his fighters as Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber escorts due to unacceptably high casualties among bomber crews. Bullard accepts on the condition that his unit be supplied with the new North American P-51 Mustang. The tails of the aircraft are painted bright red and become the unofficial name of the outfit. Bullard noted that the flaw of previous escort fighters is that they would recklessly pursue German fighters at the cost of protecting the bombers, so he orders his pilots to stay with the bombers at all costs. Their first escort mission is a success, with the 332nd downing multiple Luftwaffe aircraft without the loss of a single bomber. However, Ray Gun is shot down and captured while Deke crash lands and nearly dies.
As a result of his injuries, Deke is discharged, and Ray Gun is assumed to be dead. Easy realizes it was his fault Ray Gun was allowed to fly, blames himself and spirals deeper into alcoholism. Lightning, worried about his friend, makes a deal with Easy; he will follow orders and fly less recklessly as long as Easy remains sober. Meanwhile, attitudes against the Tuskegee Airmen begin to change as they earn the bomber crews’ respect, even being allowed into the “whites only” officer’s club. Ray Gun is sent to a POW camp, where he is recruited by a group of POWs who are planning to escape. The escape attempt is successful, but some of the POWs are spotted by a guard so Ray Gun draws the Germans’ attention while the other POWs escape. One of the POWs manages to reach the 332nd’s base and informs them about Ray Gun’s sacrifice, assuming him to be dead. Later, Lightning finally proposes to Sofia and she accepts.
The Tuskegee Airmen are then tasked with escorting the first American bombers to attack Berlin. However, despite their P-51s having more than enough fuel for the trip, the 332nd is only asked to escort the bombers on the first leg of their journey due to propaganda reasons. But the fighter squadron meant to relieve the 332nd never arrives, and Easy makes the decision to stay with bombers all the way. They are then attacked by Pretty Boy, now leading a flight of revolutionary Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters. Despite being outclassed by the jet fighters’ superior speed and 30 mm cannon, the Tuskegee Airmen are able to shoot down some of the Me 262s. Pretty Boy manages to get on Easy’s tail and is about to shoot him down, but at the last moment, Lightning attacks and kills Pretty Boy in a head-on attack. Victorious, but mortally wounded, he eventually crashes. Easy is then forced to inform Sofia about Lightning’s death and consequently overcomes his alcoholism for good. At Lightning’s funeral, Ray Gun miraculously returns, having survived his escape from German captivity.
Ultimately, the Tuskegee Airmen are awarded the Presidential Unit Citation in honor of their achievements.
Growing up as an Air Force brat, one can’t help but become enamored with airplanes…or become more and more bitter with the sound of them everytime you go near the base. Even though I have a fear of heights and flying, I still was one of those that loved planes. Add to that my love for WWII, and Red Tails should be right up my alley, right?
What did I like?
It was made. There have been film about the Tuskegee Airmen made before, but most have been documentaries or those ultra-serious dramas. It was good to get an action flick on these fine pilots, and that it was made by a prominent filmmaker, George Lucas. The fact that he went out of his way and stuck his neck out to make a film about African-American pilots earns some respect he’s lost with his constant tinkering of the holy trilogy back.
No Spike. Thank goodness this was not made by Spike Lee! Had he directed this, I’m sure this would have been another “hate whitey’ film. Instead, this director mostly downplayed and ignored the racism that existed. Sure, he touched on it here and there. It would be pointless to make this film without doing so, but that stuff is not the focal point of this film, the flying is what matters. If you want that racial stuff, go watch one of those documentaries.
Flying high. The flying scenes are what most people are watching this for, and boy, are they worth it! If there is one thing George Lucas knows how to do, it is film some great aeronautical aerobatics, as we’ve seen in the holy trilogy, most notably Star Wars (which it has been said he used as a basis for these scenes). Again, I’m a little biased as I love seeing these type of planes in dogfights, one of the reasons I loved Pearl Harbor as well. The only thing missing was a plane painted with a shark face.
Now that we’ve found love. Along with all the action, there is a little love story. It really hits its peak at the film’s end. On top of that, we get a real sense of camaraderie between the pilots when one of them nearly dies and another crashes and is captured.
They are out there. Last week, I read an article about an upcoming superhero movie about Black Panther. The problem was that they had no idea who would play him. The usual suspects are too old. Well, here are a bunch of nominees, one of them even has that build and natural British/African accent.
What didn’t I like?
Bad banter. *SIGH* I have never heard so many clichéd, stereotypical lines in my life. The most obvious place was in the final flying scene. These lines were so bad, there were almost offensive.
Terrence and Cuba. Terrence Howard is one of my favorite actors. I’m still fuming over how they replaces him with the far inferior Don Cheadle for Iron Man 2. He does a decent job here, but he seems to be trying too hard and it comes off as nearly robotic. Cuba Gooding, Jr., on the other hand could really use his performance here to get back onto the A list, or at least he could if there were more there. As it is, he has a few good scenes, but nothing to write home about. Come to think about it, isn’t it weird that some of the more prominent African-American actors such as Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson, aren’t in this?
Feeling. I was trying to feel something for these characters, but it just wasn’t happening. As a matter of fact, with the exception of the rebellious pilot (you know there has to be one), they don’t really give you anything to go on for most of these guys, except that one of them has a bit of a drinking problem. This is something that they could have done a better job with, in my opinion. I’m not saying we need to know the backstory of each and every pilot, but something, anything, more would have nice.
Unequal. For all the praise that can be heaved onto the flying scenes, the same cannot be said for this story. I realize that Lucas wasn’t really trying to focus on something dramatic, which is fine with me, but there could have been something for the audience to sink our teeth into. As it is, we get these teases of a story here and there, but nothing is really flashed out.
Red Tails is a fun war flick. Chances are that after you watch this, you’ll go look up the Tuskegee Airmen, or maybe even watch one of those other films about them, which is one of the major reasons this was made, to bring awareness to these forgotten pilots. I loved this film, but it does have a few flaws that just cannot be overlooked. Still, I highly recommend you check it out!
4 out of 5 stars