'Red Tails' has been a pet project of George Lucas for many years and he has finally been able to bring this story about African American World War II pilots to the screen. Their story of segregation and succeeding against impossible odds is one that deserves to be told and now audiences have the chance to learn about one of the most important, yet little know aspects of this pivotal time in world history.
Led by Colonel A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard) and Major Emanuelle Stance (Cuba Gooding Jr), we first see this talented group of pilots known as the Tuskeegee Airmen running scout missions and making runs on easy targets that are well away from the front lines where the real battles are being fought.
Marty 'Easy' Julian (Nate Parker) is the flight leader of Red Squadron along with his best friend Joe 'Lightning' Little (David Oyelowo) and a band of brothers that are all eager to see real combat where they can make a meaningful contribution to the war effort. Col. Bullard has gone back to the states to lobby on his group's behalf and successfully gets his team inserted in to a mission that will give them that opportunity.
After completing the mission with better than expected success, the squad is awarded a full complement of brand new planes to replace the aging had me downs they have been using up to this point. Seeking to create a unique identity, they have the tails of each plane painted red so everyone will know just who is flying these planes that are winning battle after battle and the legendary Red Tail squadron is born.
Director Anthony Davis has had a long career working on many movie and TV shows in various capacities over the years including everything from 'CSI' and 'The Wire' to 'Ali' and 'The Manchurian Candidate'. With his first crack at directing a major motion picture himself, Davis throws everything he can at giving the audience an educational and entertaining experience worthy of this group's incredible achievements.
The primary focus of the movie is about how the Tuskeegee Airmen deal with the reality of racism coming not only from their enemies, but also from the fellow soldiers who they are fighting side by side with.
You also get a good sense of the camaraderie and brotherhood that exists between pilots that fly together and knowing that every time they take to the skies, there is the danger of not returning home.
The high flying combat scenes are breath taking as Industrial Light and Magic yet again does amazing special effects work that puts you right in the middle of the dog fights and bombing runs without ever going over the top or taking you out of the sense of believability.
There are a few missteps in the overall story including one pilot's quest for the love of a local woman that seems unnecessary as well as a few cliche's thrown in that pull the movie down a bit. Throughout the movie there are bits of dialog that seem so wooden and stale that it actually reminded me of watching the Star Wars prequel movies. I have heard that Lucas actually stepped in and directed some of the scenes himself which would explain a lot of the flaws (they are consistent with his work!), but setting all that aside, this is still a very enjoyable film.
The main focus of 'Red Tails' is on the heroics and patriotism of men that are fighting a war on all fronts and the true success of the movie is in getting their story in front of audiences that most likely never knew about this important part of history. George Lucas spent over $58 million of his own money to get this movie made and hopefully audiences will turn out to support a story that needed to be told.