Red Tails

Tuskegee Airmen


20 January 2012| No Comments on Red Tails     by Sean Chavel


Nothing to write home about. Red Tails is George Lucas’ long-awaited passion project on the Tuskegee Airmen of WWII – the African-American Air Force squadron stationed in Italy, and fighting over Germany. The directing chore is listed under Anthony Hemingway, but Lucas did the combat re-shoots. Cast members Cuba Gooding Jr., David Oyelowo, Nate Parker, Tristan Wilds and Ne-Yo bring jingoistic enthusiasm to their roles but what’s missing is a sense of their feelings towards their own exploitation. The story immediately pegs them as military surplus, with the racist white brass as composited by one white actor, Bryan Cranston, as an army colonel who judges the Tuskegee squad as cowards on the basis of their skin color. All the aerial dogfights are exciting nonetheless, taking on the skirmish visual style of – what else – “Star Wars” (1977). 

History does not boil down to an interracial romance, but Joe Lightning Little falls in love with a young Italian woman who he aggressively courts despite the language barrier. I had a hard time buying that a beauty like actress Daniela Ruah would be first to lean in for a kiss with Lightning and sputtering words of “love.”

Most of the men are doled out one trait, and if lucky, given a few extra shades of personality. There’s the squadron leader with a drinking problem. The musically talented guitarist. The youngster not trusted amongst the others. And the romanticist, of course, who is the bravest and cockiest of all pilots. They are all good enough, but there is one stand-out fine actor in the cast, and it’s Terrence Howard (“Hustle & Flow,” “Crash”) as Colonel A.J. Bullard. All the persuasive, if few, historical hooks in the film are conveyed through Howard in the military conference scenes. He validates the worth of the Tuskegee men by proving to his superiors that they have valor. This eventually gets them better planes instead of “hand-me-downs.”

“Red Tails” has a generalized sense of history. The dogfights are really well done of what can technically go wrong in the air, or how much battering a plane can withstand and yet still hold on for a raid mission. But the racial segregation themes are trotted out at a grade school level.

I also got the feeling that Lucas wanted to pump up the legitimacy of his black heroes by giving them an almost invincible survival rate. But the final title card before the end credits tells us of the remaining facts. Respectable, but next time, I hope Hollywood (and Lucas) risk by leaving out the piety in their military biographies like this one and interject some harsher psychological and sociological realities.

125 Minutes. Rated PG-13.


Film Cousins: “A Soldier’s Story” 1984); “Top Gun” (1986); “The Tuskegee Airmen” (1995); “Men of Honor” (2000).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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