The much-anticipated George Lucas film “Red Tails” looks good on the exterior. It’s even better upon close inspection. The high-flying tribute to the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, the famed black pilots who battled racial injustice and segregation just to prove to its own country that they were just as equal in the cockpit as their white military colleagues, is laudable in effort and ambition.
With mostly an all-black cast that features well-established actors Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr., “Red Tails” soars to magnificent heights when it’s in the air. The aerial fight scenes in “Red Tails” are second to none. In fact, the aerial assaults excellently captured in “Red Tails,” are worth the price of admission themselves.
Lucas, famously known as the guru that put together the monstrous “Star Wars” saga, pushes all the right buttons in this World War II drama. And much like his world renowned “Star Wars” megahits, Lucas flies high with his masterful craftsmanship of putting the audience in the front row of the dramatic, surreal dogfighting scenes in “Red Tails.”
The young cast, which includes Nate Parker (Blood Done Signed My Name, Great Debaters), hip-hop crooner Ne-Yo (Stomp the Yard) and several members from “The Wire,” do a decent job in posturing youthful exuberance and brass. Howard, always a steady presence in the roles he plays, delivers his typical sturdy performance as the lead actor in the film as Col. A.J. Bullard.
Howard does an admirable job as Bullard, who pushes Washington naysayers into giving his men a chance at fighting for the very country that viewed African Americans at that time as subservient and unqualified as partners in the fight against Nazi Germany.
But the star of the hour is David Oyelowo, who portrays Joe “Lightning” Little, ace of the 332nd Fighter Group. The role may be Oyelowo’s coming out party as an actor. As the group’s top gun and its ardent romancer, Oyelowo’s “Lightning” character commands such screen presence with his daredevil antics and orders-defying-role that he steals some of the thunder from Parker’s strong, but subtle and rule-abiding Marty “Easy” Julian character.
“Lightning” is both a knucklehead and a lover. He’s also the best of the airmen. He has a hard time listening and obeying orders from his commanding officer (Parker), but somehow finds the time to swoon and fall in love with a lovely Italian woman (played by Daniela Ruah) in a nearby village in which the black pilots are stationed. The film’s romance subplot adds a bit humility and earthliness to “Red Tails’ sparkling action scenes.
By and large, “Red Tails” is a celebration of the aviators and astronautic engineers often overlooked and bypassed for their historic contributions to the United States military efforts to shut down Germany’s dictatorship state. Before 1940, blacks were denied the opportunity to fly in military combat. It wasn’t until President Franklin D. Roosevelt handed down an executive order to create an all-black flying unit that African Americans were finally given the chance to prove themselves as qualified military members in the air.
Conducted at the Tuskegee Institute by the Army Air Corp, the “Tuskegee Experience,” spawned the 99th Fighter Squadron, which later merged together with other black flying units to form the 332nd Fighter Group in which the movie “Red Tails” is inspired from. For today’s young people, “Red Tails” gives them an opportunity to get to know about a group of aviators and individuals many of them have probably never heard of.
For the middle-of-the-road and older moviegoer who is familiar with the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, this is a chance to rekindle history. All in all, “Red Tails” is a widely and glorious celebration of true American heroes that fought against the odds and came out victorious.