Saturday, 26 May 2012


Courage has no colour. The cast of RED TAILS. All images: LUCASFILM/MOMENTUM PICTURES.


Starring Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr. and David Oyelowo

Directed by Anthony Hemingway

A LUCASFILM production, released in UK cinemas via MOMENTUM PICTURES, from June 6th

Reviewed by Scott Weller

Deservedly released to co-incide with the anniversary of D-day, and prior to its pristine arrival on Blu-ray and DVD, the digital theatrical release of George Lucas’s much anticipated movie about the brave African-American Tuskegee airmen of World War II- known by the moniker of their fighter craft RED TAILS-finally arrives on UK cinema screens after much will they or won’t they release the movie here speculation.

It was a long time coming, and there had already been a prior TV movie on the subject matter, starring Laurence Fishburne, which had stolen some of its eventual thunder, but George Lucas’s dream of making this feature film tribute to the heroic airmen, originally stationed in Italy and virtually ostracised and alienated through racial prejudice and bigotry from their fellow war comrades, before they were eventually able to win deserved respect and take part in the first major conflicts against the ever pushing Nazi menace, is finally here, having equally fought its own unfair Hollywood controversies in order to reach THX-certified multiplexes.

Sky Wars! The Red Tails in action!

RED TAILS proves to be an enjoyable, if hardly classic, effort from Lucas, and a film that truly showcases all the best and worst examples of the way that the modern incarnation of LUCASFILM makes movies these days.

Only partially a truly worth-while cinematic endeavour, the project seems to have lost something in its ultimate translation, notably, I felt, in its screenplay adaptation by John Ridley and Aaron McGruder, of which some of the character dialogue unleashed is both poor and often cliché ridden, coming out of the actors mouths as if they were in an equally clichéd pulp 1940’s comic book- a situation that is certainly not something intentional or deserved for an ultimately serious movie subject, yet prescient nonetheless. The project definitely has a TV feel about it, too, that jars with and hurts it at times- sections reminding me of the lightweight historical drama previously inherent within the Young Indiana Jones series (what with some of the same production team here, including producer Rick McCallum at the helm, the always likable Ben Burtt at the AVID editing machine and George Lucas as Executive Producer, a man with lots of TV producer-ship under his belt these days).

David Oyelowo gives a likable performance as pilot Joe 'Lightning' Little.

Young British actor David Oyelowo, most known to UK viewers for his series role in the popular spy drama SPOOKS (or MI5 in the US) and as a ruthless scientist industrialist in the recent acclaimed RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES re-imagining, is creditable and watchable enough as the primary hot shot lead pilot, Joe ‘Lightning’ Little, as are the rest of the younger men in the flight group, whom equally rise above the dialogue as best they can. It’s just a shame they all couldn’t have had a lot stronger story material to work with.

Early posters promote Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard, but ultimately they're not in the film enough.

Excellent character actor Terrence Howard gives the film a solid foundation of dignity and heart where he can in key sequences, though Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding Jr., who lit the fuse to success with the likes of his strong and memorable work in JERRY MAGUIRE, is incredulously under-used and wasted throughout as major Emanuelle Stance, smoking his pipe and popping in and out of the plot to offer advice. It’s almost as if he’s wandered onto the set from another movie!

Other British stars to look out for include ex-EASTENDERS star Robert Kazinsky as an American pilot and Oyelowo’s fellow SPOOKS actor Rupert Penry-Jones, as well as cameos from the likes of emerging TV talent like BREAKING BAD’s Bryan Cranston (recently so good in the sleeper hit DRIVE). And let’s not forget the always-grumpy looking Gerald McRaney playing, yes you guessed it, a grumpy Lieutenant General!

Best known for his work on the iconic TV series THE WIRE, director Anthony Hemingway is not yet of the stature of Spielberg or Ridley Scott in his feature film debut, but RED TAILS is competent enough fare, nicely framed in a kind of old fashioned cinema way that’s not overly flashy or over stylised. There are also a few choice scenes where you can clearly see some of Lucas’ s direction and editorial choices at work within the film, alongside some of the documentary type wide shots prevalent in the first STAR WARS and AMERICAN GRAFFITI.

Want stunning ILM effects work? You got it!

Adding to the script woes, it’s in the editing department in which the film also suffers in key parts, and rumours of the film having problems in that area, with additional re-shoots followed by further re-editing, seem credible. Moments of building drama are suddenly cut short due to selected poor creative choices, whilst certain other scenes plod on. And, despite some of the incredible flying sequences perfected by ILM (brilliant as ever!), of which certain segments are exciting and exhilarating, others seem too busy and outstay their welcome.

To its credit, though, RED TAILS does have a solid overall finale, bringing rewarding closure above what proves to be a very patchwork-like affair. Despite its noticeable faults, this film and its subject matter should never have been overlooked by Hollywood, nor should there have been any doubt about its getting a theatrical release. RED TAILS was made for the big screen and deserves to be shown and judged within that arena, even if in a limited engagement.

Caught in battle: Elijah Kelley as Samuel 'Joker' George.

For American audiences seeing RED TAILS in its release earlier in the year, I think the film would have been a lot more powerful and dramatic if it had been made years before in a different era of US film-making- the late seventies or early eighties, at a time when Lucas was also less seemingly creatively compromised than he is now by critics and audiences who basically have an axe to grind with him over the love ‘em or hate ‘em STAR WARS Prequels. A realistic and just as deserving, hopefully un-PG 13 version the Tuskegee airmen story will, I hope, eventually be made by one of those next generation of Spielberg and Scott wannabes, and I look forward to that. In the meantime, though, this version of RED TAILS, realised by a to-be-commended stubborn and determined Lucas and co., if in a less turbulent, more audience friendly way (ultimately the only scenario for him to get the film made against the backs of a disinterested Hollywood), has its heart in the right place in celebrating the Tuskegee Airmen's triumph over adversity, and is worth a few hours of your time and support at the cinema, even if its not as entirely successful as it could and should have been.

AFICIONADO RATING: 6.5 out of 10

Don't forget to check out the UK RED TAILS FACEBOOK page here: Red Tails Movie and on TWITTER at @RedTailsUk

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