Red Tails: Solid Acting in Mediocre Film

I’m going to be very blunt about this. Red Tails is a mediocre film at best. The story itself and the characters are clichés, lacking depth and complexity. There is minimal character development. The editing is poor except for the aerial fight scenes which are well done. On top of all this, the music does not seem to suit the film, although the popular songs of the World War II era are rather good. All the points I just mentioned make Red Tails a film that, unless you are a World War II history buff, or you just enjoy good old aerial fight scenes, will leave you disappointed.

The story is familiar and simple enough, but perhaps too clichéd. During the war, African-American pilots recruited from the Tuskegee Institute have not seen any real aerial combat because of racial prejudice. Some commanding officers do not think the pilots are smart enough or brave enough to handle combat. The fighters, who go by their nicknames (Lightning, Smokey, Junior, Joker, and Easy), finally get the opportunity for some real action, and at that point the film becomes interesting only because the CGI fight scenes are well done.

Unfortunately, the story of brave men overcoming racial prejudice is too generic. I’ve seen so much of this already in other films. It would seem the director (Anthony Hemingway) and the screenwriters (John Ridley and Aaron McGruder) could have done something really unique with the characters and relationships in this film, but they don’t, and that’s too bad. They had something interesting material and good actors to work with, yet the film does not have real impact.

The acting in Red Tails is solid (Cuba Gooding Jr., David Oyelowo, Terrence Howard, Nate Parker, and Tristan Wilds), but there is little character development or arch for any of the actors to work with. The characters in the film who get hurt or have major issues leave the viewer with no strong emotional reaction because the characters don’t stand out. It is difficult to be engaged by characters with no back stories and who are not carefully developed. Even their relationships do not seem genuine.

Red Tails is worth seeing for the aerial fight scenes and for this important part of World War II history that is often overlooked. The story of the Tuskegee flyers is an inspiring one about true heroes, but it needed to be told through a much stronger and memorable film.