While action-adventure films are often remembered for their extensive stunts and visual effects, they rarely showcase the emotional stories of real-life heroes. That all changes though with the new movie Red Tails, directed by first-time feature film director Anthony Hemingway.
The movie chronicles the World War II African-American pilots who fought against the Army’s belief that they lacked the intelligence and aptitude to be pilots or maintain military aircraft. Set against the brilliantly detailed sets and visual effects created by George Lucas, the film brings the airmen’s struggles to the attention of viewers worldwide.
Red Tails follows a crew of the pilots in the Tuskegee training program who have faced segregation and have been kept mostly on the ground during World War II.
The pilots, including Andrew ‘Smoky’ Salem (Ne-Yo), Raymond ‘Jr.’ Gannon (Tristan Wilds), Samuel “Joker” George (Elijah Kelley), Joe ‘Lightening’ Little (David Oyelowo) and Marty ‘Easy’ Julian (Nate Parker), are called into duty under the command of Col. A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard) and Major Emanuelle Stance (Cuba Gooding, Jr.). Much to the Pentagon’s disdain, they eventually agree to let the inexperienced pilots help guard the Allied bombers.
Director Anthony Hemingway has perfectly captured the spirit and inspiration of the Tuskegee Airmen with Red Tails and he’s effectively showed how the servicemen overcame racism through friendship and professional discipline. His direction, backed by a screenplay that memorably honors the 332nd Fighter Group based out of Ramitelli Airfield in Italy in 1944, makes for a pretty entertaining and enjoyable film.
One thing that initially stood out to me with the movie is the large ensemble cast. The core group of actors seem to have a great bond which comes out on screen and makes their friendships feel all the more believable. Of course, helping this believability is the performances which were, on the whole, very strong. Although all the actors involved here provide some good work, several individuals stood out from the rest of the pack.
Ne-Yo provided the much needed comic relief for the film and crafted a very likeable character while Howard and Gooding gave convincing and memorable performances, successfully portraying their characters as being true leaders.
The visual effects featured in Red Tails, which were created by Lucas and his company Industrial Light & Magic, truly enhance the scenes featuring the Tuskegee Airmen’s missions. The actors shot their flight sequences in the cockpits of P-51 Mustangs in front of green screens and the fight sequences were computer-generated. Despite many of the actors’ inexperience shooting with this type of technology, Lucas’ stunning effects made it all seem pretty realistic. The visual effects, combined with the credible sound effects created by sound designer Ben Burtt, made all the battle scenes engaging, intense and a pleasure to watch.
If there’s one down side with the film, it’s the dialogue between the Tuskegee Airmen, particularly when they’re in their planes fighting. It’s unfortunately trite and unoriginal. The characters’ lines are often unrealistic and forced, as though they don’t know how to bring their bond from the ground into their planes. It’s a bit annoying to watch at times and somewhat pulls you out of the film, ruining the experience a bit.
Overall though, with Red Tails, Hemingway creates a touching memorial to the Tuskegee Airmen and their fight to be treated equally in World War II. The actors’ convincing portrayals and realistic bond with each other, along with the spectacular visual and sound effects created by Lucas, makes the film feel genuine and powerful.