'Red Tails' Review: Heroic Saga Sunk by Absurdities
"Red Tails" tells an important World War II story of brave black soldiers chafing at the constraints of government-enforced racial segregation. It’s gratifying to finally see such a story told, with a complement of able black actors, in a movie to which the name of Tyler Perry is not appended.
So it’s too bad the picture is so resolutely old-fashioned and meanderingly paced (it’s a first feature by director Anthony Hemingway), and that it’s afflicted with distracting absurdities.
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The story begins in Italy in 1944, with a unit of black fighter pilots – the Tuskegee Airmen – cooling their heels far from the combat action (the official military view being that “Negroes” are incapable of flying missions, operating complex machinery or much else, and are in addition cowardly by nature). Some of the airmen, like Captain “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker), are resigned to such systemic racism; but one of them, a kid called Lightning (David Oyelowo), can’t disguise his smoldering fury.(He’s an avatar of the Civil Rights era to come.) Meanwhile, a senior officer, Major Stance (Cuba Gooding Jr.), looks on, smoking a kindly pipe, while the unit’s commander, Colonel Bullard (Terence Howard), is away in Washington fighting the Pentagon brass for more meaningful duties for his men.
Bullard eventually gets his way, and his pilots are soon flying combat support for bombing runs against dug-in German forces. (When the unit is belatedly given up-to-date aircraft to fly, the men paint the tails of them red.) The Tuskegees acquit themselves valiantly (as the real Tuskegee airmen did), and soon—all too soon, I’d say—the white pilots who initially derided them with racist epithets are glad-handing them as buddies.
Read the rest of the review at Reason.com