The Tuskegee Airman deserved better
Red Tails had been a passion project of George Lucas's for years. Despite all the production power that the Star Wars legend had, he just couldn't get a studio to back his idea for a film about the famous Tuskegee Airman - an American all-black fighter unit during the Second World War. Ultimately Lucas financed the film himself through Lucasfilm and it was distributed by Twentieth Century Fox. Lucas attributed the decades-long struggle to get the film made and its eventual failure to racism within the film community. That might be true and the recent criticism of the Academy Awards would certainly suggest that Hollywood is still dominated by old white people but the film's ultimate lack of success had less to do with racism and more to do with the fact that it wasn't very good.
The blame lies firmly on the screenplay, which takes certain liberties with the truth and fails to establish a believable group of characters, most of whom are fictional. The real story is dramatic enough, so there was no need to fabricate facts and there certainly wasn't any need to add a highly unlikely mixed-race love story into the mix. The filmmakers would probably claim that they were making a World War II movie in the style of the films of the 40s and 50s but post-Saving Private Ryan its hard to accept that kind of sensibility. The film would have been better if it had stuck to the truth and concentrated on the dynamics between the real airman.
As it is we end up with a corny screenplay that is full of terrible dialogue, pointless romantic subplots, every wartime cliche you can think of and one-dimensional characters. That's a shame because the film boasts an excellent cast of British and American actors including Cuba Gooding, Jr. (who had already appeared in the superior Tuskegee Airman), Terrence Howard, David Oyelowo and a young Michael B. Jordan (Creed). Despite their best efforts, this able cast can't save a poor script and are left trying to deliver some truly awful dialogue with a straight face.
The production design and effects are generally very good but despite the film's attempt at historical accuracy when it comes to the sets and equipment, the film's other big failing is its dogfights. With modern effects the film could have delivered a realistic portrayal of what it was like to fly missions over Germany during World War II. Instead we end up with a computer generated effects-fest where the planes behave more like X-Wings than 1940s fighters. That's a shame because the film could have been so much more but, as is so often the case with George Lucas, it's let down by a poor script and an over-dependence on visual effects.
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