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Movie Review: Red Tails

January 20, 2012

Red Tails – A 20th Century Fox Release

Release Date: January 20th, 2012

Rated PG for mature themes, violence and some language

Running time: 125 minutes

Anthony Hemingway (dir.)

John Ridley (screenplay and story)

Aaron McGruder (screenplay)

Terence Blanchard (music)

Terrence Howard as Colonel A.J. Bullard

Cuba Gooding Jr. as Major Emanuelle Stance

David Oyelowo as Joe ‘Lightning’ Little

Marcus T. Paulk as David ‘Deke’ Watkins

Nate Parker as Marty ‘Easy’ Julian

Tristan Wilds as Ray ‘Junior’ Gannon

Elijah Kelley as Samuel ‘Joker’ George

Leslie Odom Jr. as Declan ‘Winky’ Hall

Kevin Phillips as Leon ‘Neon’ Edwards

Ne-Yo as Andrew ‘Smoky’ Salem

Bryan Cranston as Colonel William Mortamus

Daniela Ruah as Sofia

©20th Century Fox.  All Rights Reserved.

Joe ‘Lightning’ Little (David Oyelowo), Marty ‘Easy’ Julian (Nate Parker) and Ray ‘Junior’ Gannon (Tristan Wilds) are part of the Tuskegee Airmen in Red Tails.

Our reviews below:


Red Tails Review By John C.

**1/2 (out of 4)

A few days ago, the news broke that Red Tails would be the last blockbuster that George Lucas would have his name behind as a producer.  This World War II film is not an entirely missed opportunity for Lucas or director Anthony Hemingway, as they do stage some impressive sequences of airplanes in the midst of battle, but the script is unfortunately a little too clichéd for its own good.

The year is 1944, and a group of African-American soldiers in the largely experimental Tuskegee training program are left with the often uneventful task of patrolling the European skies for enemy airplanes.  With their squadron led by Colonel Bullard (Terrence Howard), the men face segregation from the widely recognized white pilots and are forced to take to the skies in rundown planes.  But after Joe “Lightning” Little’s (David Oyelowo) impressive takedown of a German train transporting weapons, the soldiers are tasked with the more dangerous mission of shadowing American bombers on their daytime raids.  Especially throughout the battle scenes, this is an example of a true story tastefully told, that shows a lesser known part of WWII history.

But the pace of Red Tails is slower than what we’ve come to expect, and as the story progresses, more and more war movie clichés are checked off the list.  Although the main problem with the film comes from the dialogue, which even seems cheesy for the 1940’s setting.  The German soldiers speak in stilted sentences, that are made even more laughable when they are translated for the subtitles.  “Die, you foolish African” sputters one solider as he attempts to shoot down a plane.  But my favourite line comes when one of the Red Tails is going undercover for the white soldiers.  “You’re a wise sucker” they tell him as they pat him on the shoulder.  “At least they won’t see you in the dark.”  I actually laughed out loud when this line came up, and I still can’t believe that the producers didn’t object to the seeming racism of this scene.

“Bright red tails and black pilots, you can’t call us anything but distinctive” says one of the soldiers.  The aerial fight scenes in Red Tails are nicely done and the story is worth telling, but I just wish that the dialogue had been less clichéd and the characters more realized to better distinguish this often predictable war movie from the crowd.  The dialogue might take away from some of the seriousness, but watch this one for the impressive sequences of battling airplanes.


Red Tails Review by Erin V.  

**1/2 (out of 4)

Based on the true story of the Tuskegee fighter pilots in WWII, Red Tails tells the story of the first all African-American squadron to be taken seriously in aerial combat.

In the film, the team of pilots, led by Marty ‘Easy’ Julian (Nate Parker), is at first assigned to just patrol and shoot down small targets such as trucks carrying weapons for the Germans.  But when they garner a bit of publicity stateside, Colonel A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard) takes advantage of it and is able to convince his superiors to get his team a real part in the war – protecting a bomber transport, which also gives them their first chance at aerial battles.  Their unique tactics and high success rate earn them a certain respect, despite the adversity they still face for the colour of their skin.

While the film is clichéd at times and the dialogue (in particular the subtitles for the Germans) is cheesy, for Black History Month in February this is a good film to take highschoolers to see to start a history discussion.  The aerial scenes are well done and exciting to watch, although the acting is often melodramatic throughout.  There is also of course plenty of wartime clichés that befall the characters.  The film is also over two hours – a little on the long side – but for the most part I didn’t mind sitting through it.  It feels a bit like a TV drama, but it does call attention to the story of the Tuskegee fighters.  And for that, it’s an ok film.


Red Tails Review by Nicole

**1/2 (out of 4)

Red Tails tells a little known piece of WWII aviation history; the story of the Tuskegee Airmen pilots.  In a time of segregation, they were African-American fighter pilots whom the American army hired to protect their fighter jets.  Colonel Bullard (Terrence Howard) is the leader of the Red Tails, and he encourages his soldiers Joe “Lightning” Little (David Oyelowo), Ray “Gun” Junior (Tristan Wilds), David “Deke” Watkins (Marcus T. Paulk) and Captain “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker) to give it their all, and prove they are soldiers as heroic and intelligent as their white comrades.

Red Tails has amazing flying and dogfight sequences.  While I found a few of the shots of injuries a bit disturbing, the violence doesn’t exceed a PG-13 level.  But the dialogue is cheesy, resulting in some unintentional laughs from the audience.  The storyline is also rather predictable, and the film does drag at points.  However, there is enough history in Red Tails to make it worthwhile.  The characters – though clichéd – are likable and there is suspense during the dogfight sequences.

A good choice for both high school classes and veterans homes, I would recommend Red Tails to anyone interested in aviation or war history, as well as for Black History Month (February).


Red Tails Review by Maureen

**1/2 (out of 4)

Opening with action-packed shots of aerial gunfights, planes crashing and burning and close-ups of injured fighter pilots, it’s obvious right from the start that executive producer George Lucas’ Red Tails will deliver excellently choreographed flying sequences with WWII fighter planes.

The story begins in 1944, Italy on a military base where an all-black squadron of American pilots known as the Tuskegee airmen are stationed.  Equipped with U.S. fighter planes that have seen better days, the African-American pilots are given the unglamorous duty of patrolling the area for German fighters.  When the four lead pilots manage to interrupt a train loaded with German weapons, the squadron leader, Colonel Bullard (Terrence Howard) is able to convince the all-white military brass to get his pilots better planes and a higher profile mission – escorting U.S. bombers during daytime raids on German targets.

Red Tails highlights a time in U.S. military history when African-American pilots were seen as dispensable and not good enough to fly with the frontline fighter pilots.  The story focuses on four of the lead pilots, particularly Captain Joe ‘Lightning’ Little (David Oyelowo) and his cocky daredevil flying style that leads to glory and tragedy for the squadron.  His romance with a beautiful Italian local villager, Sofia (Daniela Ruah) provides some lighter and sweet moments in the film.

But as good as the flying and fighting sequences are, the overall script and delivery of the often corny and unintentionally funny lines are considerably weaker.  When lines such as the German pilot’s subtitled translation “die you… foolish Africans” flash across the screen, it’s harder to take the really good fighter plane sequences seriously.

Red Tails is by no means a perfect movie.  However, it did introduce me to a piece of WWII aviation history and its treatment of African-American pilots.  Anyone with an interest in WWII, military planes or black history will likely enjoy Red Tails for the excellent flying sequences.  This is also a good choice for high schoolers studying WWII.  Red Tails is entertaining enough on the big screen, but will also play well on Blu-ray or DVD.


Red Tails Review by Tony

**1/2 (out of 4)

Red Tails commemorates the distinguished World War 2 unit of African-American Army Air Corps pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Though just as well-trained as their white counterparts, they at first were limited to surface targets in Italy using aging P-40 planes, which bigots back home attempted to use as an excuse to disband them on account of their record of no enemy planes shot down. Their distinguished performance however got them later assigned to bomber escort with new P-59s. Their strategy of close formation with the bombers (unlike other squadrons which went after enemy fighters) proved successful with very few bombers lost, finally earning the respect of bomber crews who called them “Red-Tail Angels” due to the distinctive red markings on their planes.

Shot in the Czech Republic with some exciting aerial footage, Red Tails does a good job of highlighting the accomplishments of these pilots. The cast led by Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., David Oyelowo and others does their best with a hackneyed script, going out of its way to show African-Americans as just folks like the rest of us, that could have been written in the 1950s for a white cast. However, being completely devoid of offensive content, it may prove valuable for young students, particularly during the upcoming Black History Month, if they are not too bored by the excessive running time of over two hours.


Consensus: Although Red Tails has a script filled with clichés and is a little long at over two hours, Anthony Hemingway’s World War II film tells an interesting true story and features some impressive sequences of aerial battle.  **1/2 (Out of 4)

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