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Red Tails

Red Tails

Released 6 June 2012
Director Anthony Hemingway
Starring


Cuba Gooding Jnr, Terrence Howard, Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Ne-yo
Writer(s) John Ridley, Aaron McGruder
Producer(s) Rick McCallum
Origin United States
Running Time 125 minutes
Genre Drama, action, adventure
Rating 12A
52

A turbulent flight.

While doing publicity for Red Tails, producer George Lucas spoke passionately about the long gestation of the production and the difficulty he had in selling the idea to a major studio. Speaking to talk show host Jon Stewart, Lucas suggested that the film was such a hard sell because of its all black cast. How true this theory is is up for debate but it is indisputable that Red Tails is something of an anomaly. Outside of the incredibly popular work of Tyler Perry, it is difficult to think of a work in recent years helmed by a black director (Anthony Hemingway) and featuring a strong cast of young black actors; in the genre of the war film, it is even more unprecedented.

Red Tails tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen; a fleet of African American pilots in a segregated unit during World War II. Despite their skill, the fleet have been deliberately kept out of active combat thanks to an institutionalised belief that black soldiers are naturally cowardly and cannot be relied upon in high pressure situations. The film follows the pilots and their superiors as they fight to make a name for themselves within the U.S. Air Force.

This then, is that most rare of beasts; a true war story that is relatively unknown. A pity then that its execution leaves so much to be desired. More “Boy’s Own” style adventure than historical document, the film is light on politics and replicates the structure of any number of gung-ho war films from years past. Though the cast is strong, showcasing a host of faces you may recognise from elsewhere (including five alumni of The Wire), the one-word characterisation doesn’t give them much to do; David Oyelowo is reckless, Nate Parker is uptight, Tristan Wilds is idealistic etc. Similarly, the dialogue feels like it’s been cribbed straight from a propaganda film, and several times spills over into laugh out loud levels of cheesiness.

All this is in stark contrast with the aerial scenes, which are (thanks to Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic) breathtakingly realistic and wonderfully choreographed. When the pilots return to the ground though, my levels of interest also took a nose dive. A pity; if telling a black story in modern Hollywood is as difficult as Lucas says, then Red Tails has been a missed opportunity.

- Linda O’Brien