No Turning Tail – A review of Red Tails

Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as Major Stance in the drama Red Tails, which was executive produced by George Lucas.
Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as Major Stance in the drama Red Tails, which was executive produced by George Lucas.

Summary: An inspiring story of black pilots during World War II who fought bravely and honorably in the skies during the German offensive.

George Lucas executive produced this movie. So, it is natural that some of the scenes will be compared to the dogfight sequences from Star Wars. After all, it was aerial reel footage that inspired those legendary big screen shots.

Here, though, the subject is decidedly more earthbound. The story has been told before, but it was time to update the tale for the modern day. And Lucas has done a wonderful job of bringing the battles and the story to life.

The central focus of the story is the effort for the black fighter wing to earn the respect that is not easily forthcoming from the military echelon. The outright prejudice is evident throughout the story.

The wing is assigned to protect a bomber convoy on their way to Germany to strafe the enemy lines and reduce their fighting capabilities. Fighters flown by white pilots assigned to protect the bombers would often leave the convoy in pursuit of easy fighter targets, leaving the bigger planes unprotected and vulnerable to attack.

The black pilots though, in the interest of proving themselves, remain with the bombers guarding them throughout the flight. They get glory alright – but more than that, they earn the respect of the pilots flying the bombers.

The head of the unit is Col. Bullard, played with staunch unemotionalism by Terance Howard (Is it me or is “unemotional” all he CAN play?) Working diligently, he wheels and deals his way into the minds of the puppet masters who direct the war machine and finds his pilots the niches they so deserve.

In contrast, Cuba Gooding Jr.’s approach is more laid back. He still remains aloof from the fighting force, but you see the pain he feels when one of his soldiers is wounded or presumed lost in combat.

The fighter pilots, though, are the true stars of the movie. “Easy”, the captain of the squadron, battles his own demons, while “Lightning” Joe Little is the flamboyant skyboy ace who wines and dines an Italian lass when he isn’t going toe to toe with German master flyers.

It’s too bad, though, that the film has to resort to standard movie clichés in order to force emotional reaction from the audience. Just once, it would be nice to not be able to predict outcomes based on typically crafted situations with pre-ordained endings based on Hollywood history.

Overall, though, Red Tails is well worth the diversion. I give the movie 4 out of 5 stars.

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