Friday, January 27, 2012

“Red Tails” Heavy on Action, Heart

By Chip Schrader

Staff Columnist, Movie Reviewer

“Red Tails” opens with a quote from the United States Army, stating intellectual inferiority and lack of courage as their reason for not employing African Americans for officer assignments.

Following this quote is the first real shot of the film. The camera follows a fleet of German and American bombers flying over Europe. The fighter planes, piloted by Caucasian men, are attempting to protect bombers but quickly abandon them to chase after the glory of shooting down a Nazi plane. In the aftermath of their desertion, the film witnesses the cockpits and cargo areas of the bombers being shot up. Men fall, bleeding, and bombers plummet in pieces, unable to finish their mission.

Following this scene is a rather dull mission, carried out by the African American Airmen of World War II—now known as the Tuskegee Airmen. One of the aforementioned pilots even explains, “They say war is hell, I’d say this is boring as hell.” Shortly into running a routine fly though, they encounter a Nazi with full infantry—this proves an introduction for the audience to the unused talent of the Tuskegee Airmen of WWII.

The cast of the film includes a Terence Howard-portrayed Colonel. Beneath his pipe smoking Colonel, are WWII airmen “Easy,” “Winky,” “Junior,” “Neon” and “Joker.” As the first part of the film focuses primarily upon dogfights and air-to-ground combat, it takes a decent portion of the film to understand which character is which. Understandably, though, the cinematic depiction of an entire military division, as well as a story of several different heroes is a tall order in which to fully develop both characters and plot.

Beyond the difficulties of cramming so much into one film—an effort that even it’s direct—a somewhat well-known man named George Lucas—the film showcases action sequences that are at the cutting edge of action cinematography. Films like “Top Gun” and “Iron Eagle” have successfully conveyed the pulse-pounding suspense and speed of a full on midair dogfight, but “Red Tails,” with the help of digital technology, shows the great depths of fighting in midair—weaving between dozens of various competing bombers. When a plane loses altitude, you can see it from angles never before captured onscreen.

The acting is solidly done for the part. However, the passion Terence Howard needs to convey to his officers doesn’t quite ring true. He isn’t quite as believable a Colonel as he should be. For that matter, many of the commanding officers seem to be softer spoken rather than driven, and elements such as the captain’s drinking problem aren’t as well developed as they should have been. He is just seen with liquor in just one or two scenes, but the film is almost devoid of any real conflict regarding his alcoholism. Which further helps to propagate the question of whether or not Lucas spent more time on visuals than on plot-content.

All criticism aside, though, these characters remain with you long after the film ends. The story is a terrific history lesson of what our nation has overcome when it comes to racial barriers. It does a lot to highlight the bravery and prejudice that highlighted the work of these men during World War II.

Bottom line: “Red Tails” is a solid movie and, save for a little language, it is a rare opportunity for a father and son movie outing. The acting is a bit soft in spots but the imagery is breathtaking. The characters are people that the audience will care and root for, even though it takes over half of the movie to get to know them. There are no real standout performances, but there are many quotable lines throughout the film. Most importantly, each character gets a scene or two to make his definitive mark.

In the end, viewers will walk away wanting at least another half an hour with such a quietly charismatic cast. 3 out of 5 stars.