Producer George Lucas began developing the story of the Tuskegee Airmen as a theatrical project way back in 1988. Originally developed as a trilogy, Red Tails languished in development for years as Lucas moved on to other projects (including the Star Wars prequels). As a historical drama the film is problematic, but as an action film centered around real-life African-American heroes Red Tails is not without some charm.
The story focuses on Tuskegee training program, specifically the 332d Fighter Group of young African American USAAF fighter pilots (Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Tristan Wilds, Elijah Kelley, Ne-Yo, Kevin Phillips, Marcus T. Paulk) under the command of Colonel A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard) and Major Emanuelle Stance (Cuba Gooding Jr.) who finally get their shot at real action during WWII and prove skeptics and critics wrong with a near miraculous display of ability.
The film took some flack during it’s initial release for playing up the legend of the Tuskegee Airmen at the expense of fact. As a legend, or simple hero tale, it works well-enough, but those who want the real story will need to delve far deeper into the story than what is glimpsed here.
Subplots of the film include the behind-the-scenes politics and debate over black pilots flying important missions, Easy’s (Parker) alcoholism, Junior’s (Wilds) capture and short stint and escape from Stalag 18, Lightning’s (Oyelowo) romance of an Italian woman (Daniela Ruah) and picking fights at every opportunity.
When the film tries to make broad statements on racism or focus on the individual dramas of the (mostly interchangeable) flight team it often comes off preachy and hamfisted (with more than its share of corny dialogue). Red Tails is much more successful focuses on the 332d’s missions protecting American bombers and the dogfights the find themselves in with German Luftwaffe. Although the film doesn’t include as many as I’d hoped, the dogfights are definitely worth seeing.
The Blu-ray includes “Double Victory” (a documentary on the lives of the real Tuskegee Airman) as well as short featurettes on the film’s cast and crew. The DVD only includes highlights of the documentary.
[20th Century Fox, Blu-ray $39.99 / DVD $29.98]