I finally saw the movie Red Tails.
I thought the previews were great but didn’t get to the theater. This turned out to be a good thing since I rented the movie at Family Video thus saving the higher price of a theater ticket.
In order to justify a high-priced theater ticket the movie would have to rate at least a 4 on a scale of 1-5. I’d give Red Tails a 2 1/2 star rating.
Red Tails attempts to tell the story of the famous Tuskegee Airmen otherwise known as the 332nd Fighter Group during WW2. The group is well-known for being the first African-American fighter pilots. In order to attain this distinction the airmen had to overcome considerable racism and discrimination in a racially segregated US military.
The movie begin with a quote from a an Army Air Force (during WW2 the Air Force) was part of the US Army) bigwig claiming that black servicemen in general were not suitable to combat duty. I am uncertain if anything like that was said officially but if so it’s more than ironic since black soldiers served the US bravely in previous conflicts when they had the opportunity. During the American Civil War many black regiments were raised by the North. The 54th Massachusetts was among the first. This unit was made famous in the movie Glory.
This is not to dispute the fact the Tuskegee Airmen faced prejudice. It’s merely to point out that their racist critics knew nothing of history and the courage of black soldiers during and after the American Civil War.
It appears that following the Civil and Indian Wars black regiments and service men were regulated to non-combat duties because of the prejudice.
It is with this in mind the movie starts with the 332nd stationed in Italy and being regulated to boring strafing and patrol duties well behind the main front where opportunities to dogfight with the Luftwaffe were few and far between..
The boredom is illustrated by a sub-unit attacking a German truck and slightly later a German munitions train. It’s there we meet two of the main characters who are known mainly by their nicknames, “Easy” and “Lighting.” Easy is the sub-unit commander (4 planes) and Lighting is the hot dog pilot who takes chances and disobeys direct orders. Easy and Lighting appear to be friends but tension develops between them as the movie goes on.
The movie goes on to show that some of the pilots were unhappy with the “back bench” assignments and eager to prove themselves against the Luftwaffe. Their Major, played by Cuba Gooding Jr. tells them that if they don’t like it they go back to Milwaukee to mop floors. (not sure why Milwaukee was picked on)
Eventually the 332nd gets its chance and has the opportunity to fly air cover over a sea-borne landing. They not only chase off the German interceptors but some of them go on to attack the German airbase.
The movie features an unnamed, representative German Ace who seems to be their nemesis throughout the movie. I suppose he was added to give some personality to the enemy but in my opinion the character was a cardboard caricature and foil.
When he recognizes the pilots he’s surprised they are Africans which irritates him. It irritates him some more when one of them almost shoots him down and then attacks his base. I’m thinking it would be irritating to be shot down by anyone but I suppose the comparison is made to equate American racism with Nazi racism.
The same German pilot appears late in the film flying the famed Me-262 and like all good bad guys gets his just deserves. I just thought it was a lame sub-story and not necessary to the story. I took off one star for it.
I took another star off for the thin character development of the black pilots. In some ways it was like the producers were trying to accomplish too much. They had to deal with the racism, the pilots and who they were, the behind the scenes politics in Washington, the Germans and the fact the 332nd consisted of three fighter squadrons, a unit of considerable size. In trying to do too much they didn’t do one thing well in my opinion.
The big human interest story appeared to be the love affair between Lighting and an Italian woman. Somehow you just knew early on that if one pilot was going to die it would be Lighting because not only was he a hot dog but had a love interest. Reminded me of every war movie I ever saw as a kid..
I also took off points because it was hard to believe the reason given the 332nd finally got to escort the bombers. The implication was that the previous fighter-escorts did a bad job and preferred to chase German fighters rather than escort bombers. It seems to me that escorting bombers involves chasing off enemy fighters so to imply these pilots were reckless and didn’t care about the bombers strikes me as ridiculous.
This is explained away when the black pilots finally get to escort the bombers. The nasty German Ace orders 1/2 of his force to decoy the fighters and the other 1/2 to attack the bombers. I suppose this was a standard German tactic but this time the fighters don’t fall for it and chase the obvious decoys. I’m not saying it never happened. I’m just saying it’s over stated and probably not fair to the white fighter squadrons who escorted bombers too.
I did give the movie 2 1/2 stars.
First, the subject matter rates one star all by-itself. The story needs to be told. I think it would have been a better movie if it followed the Glory formula and give the audience a chance to care about the characters.
The 332nd were brave and noble pilots who over came much to fight for their country. The 332nd did much to put to death the prejudice in the military and no doubt led the way to a fully integrated US military by 1950. The story deserved a better treatment but the fact it was attempted at out rates a star.
I gave it another 1 1/2 stars because any movie that tries to recreate WW2 with impressive computer graphics deserves it. I was wowed by the Stuka attack in the movie Enemy at the Gates and I admit to being wowed by the airplane graphics used in Red Tails. Seeing numerous B-17s, Me-109s, P-51s and later Me-262s in air-to-air combat was the number 1 selling point of the movie and worth the price of the Family Video ticket.
Some critics have said it was a bit like Star Wars and they did not mean it in a good way. To some extent I see their point especially when the stars of the movie shoot down three of five Me-262s.
So, all in all I was disappointed because I thought it could be better, but on the other hand it was worth a watch to understand just a bit better what black service men had to overcome to be taken seriously by a prejudiced establishment.