Film Review: Red Tails Offers a Thrilling Flight but Misses the True Target


Red Tails had an amazing trailer, so much so that without having ever heard of the film, from the trailer alone, my Sherlockian friend and I decided to meet at the theater the following week to see the film.  The movie was not entirely what I was expecting.  Knowing little of WWII history, I would have appreciated more of the history being worked somehow into the plot and script of the film.  I think Red Tails assumed a little more era-specific knowledge.  Which, I admit, the majority of the audience, I saw when the lights were turned on, probably had.

My major complaint about the film was this:

For a movie the message of which is that race does not confer greatness or difference, it was horridly black-and-white.  I understand, of course, that WWII fighter pilots, possibly even by necessity, did in fact see the Germans as little more than targets, but I would have appreciated less demonization of the Germans, many of whom were following orders—bad orders, yes—but, too, the Germans in this film were not those who probably ever saw the atrocities of the concentration camps.  It seemed almost as if the African American characters were foisting their own problems onto another group of people; rather than recognizing that prejudice and the demonization of one race by another is bad, the African Americans dehumanized the Germans similarly to how they—the African Americans—had been dehumanized by the Caucasian Americans and Europeans.  I honestly would almost expect more gray from an executive producer whose best-known project has been detailing the fall into darkness and rise from it again of a young Ani.

Red Tails shone in the scenes between the aerial battles.  It did not represent army life as always one of rigidity and marching.  The scenes of guitar-playing, card games, football, mess hall, and celebrating victories made the characters seem more human than they would have without these scenes.  I can’t say I’ve ever been in a situation I could relate to aerial warfare, but I can relate to time spent hanging out with friends.

The camaraderie of army life (which I’d like to believe exists though, again, I don’t know first hand) was nicely illustrated in the interactions between the characters and even among extras.

There were some really pretty fantastic action sequences in this film and the filming and special effects are quite impressive, though I might be remembering the effects as better than they were.  The opening credits seemed so retro that I suspected a low-budget film, but Red Tails was actually made with $100 million of George Lucas’ fortune according to Entertainment Weekly.

I think I would have preferred fewer aerial battles—or at least more scenes between.  I wanted to linger with the characters and instead was thrust into dogfights where it was possible to glean something of the characters, but not perhaps as much as I was able to gain from their grounded scenes.

Overall, I wish the film had been more slowly paced.  I wish it had shown the African American fighter pilots as more sympathetic to the Germans, though I realize this historically might be impossible.  Red Tails is more of an action than a perception-altering film—enjoyable but not as important as it could have been.

Red Tails.  Dir. Anthony Hemingway.  Exec. Prod. George Lucas.  Twentieth Century Fox Films & LucasFilms.  2012.

This review is not endorsed by Twentieth Century Fox Films, LucasFilms, George Lucas, Anthony Hemingway, anyone in the cast, or anyone involved in making this film.  It is an independent, honest review by a viewer.


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