Movie review: Red Tails

By Will Ross

It’s important that films start to have casts that feature visible minorities, but Red Tails is just counterproductive to the cause

Red Tails has everything you’d expect from latter-day George Lucas, who produced the film and directed reshoots. This will delight everyone except fans of well-crafted movies. Red Tails is the story of black pilots proving to white people that racism is bad because they are equally or more capable of shooting down aircraft. It’s a depiction of race relations which is as honest and responsible as its claim to being “inspired by actual events.” Sure it was, just like the creators of Spider-Man were inspired by seeing an actual spider.

Granted, the Tuskegee Airmen were a real group of heroic black pilots who proved their worth in combat by amassing an exemplary record. Red Tails dramatizes this by having them make monumentally stupid decisions for which they are not punished, like piloting four planes against a heavily defended airfield. They slaughter Germans with videogame efficiency and earn begrudging accolades from brass. “You chalked eight kills in the air!” (By my count, it’s not possible that they got more than five on that mission. Nice proofreading, guys.)

Then that happens four more times. Red Tails’ repetitiveness is hell — which, we are unconvincingly told, war also is — and its episodic narrative isn’t helped by the complete lack of development or insight of its stock types (I refuse to call them ‘characters’). Every performance is terrible; unavoidable, with dialogue like, “This red paint will definitely make these planes distinctive!” Even more so with a plot that refuses to give them any ambiguity or intrigue: the film’s moral seems to be ‘black people have the right to the same clichés as everyone else!’ Not the Luftwaffe, though: they’re restricted to being zee evil Germans, cartoon villains whose deaths are unqualified victories.

I don’t have space to properly diss Red Tails’ aesthetics. It’s an ugly, ugly movie: uniform lighting, clunky tonal shifts, choppy editing, and CGI backgrounds that scream, “Oh my God, somebody forgot to finish me!” It’s so incompetent that major portions of the film are out of focus.

I must credit Red Tails for its political courage, though: it’s refreshing to see a film brave enough to give its sole female role no characterization or purpose beyond being the object of the male lead’s affections.