Red Tails is an action picture about the Tuskegee Airmen that feels more like a movie made in 1944 than the kind of nuanced and morally complicated film that the credits of its director, screenwriters and cast might lead you to expect.
Who gets the credit and/or blame here? George Lucas.
If you watch those two-star WWII movies that show on Turner Classic Movies or the Military Channel at 3am, then you have an idea of the depth of character and moral conflict here. Since the Tuskegee Airmen didn’t get that kind of cardboard cutout Hollywood treatment during the war, then should anyone begrudge them finally getting their moment now?
Red Tails has a screenwriting credit from Boondocks cartoonist Aaron McGruder and was directed by The Wire’s Anthony Hemingway. The cast includes Ne-Yo and Method Man, as well as the actors who played Michael and Bubbles on The Wire. Those guys might lead you to expect something a little more complicated that what we’ve actually got here.
There’s a ton of flying action in the movie and, even though there was a lot of attention paid to those special effects, the in-the-air sequences don’t really have that full Top Gun impact.
So what happened here? In a long New York Times Magazine piece, everyone associated with the movie talks about how they wanted to put in some realism and edge and how George Lucas brought each of them around to his cornball vision.
George might be right. Even though the studios didn’t want anything to do with Red Tails and Lucas had to pay for the film and all its marketing out of his own pocket, the movie made a ton of money this past weekend, so much that we might start hearing about both a prequel and a sequel sometime soon. In any case, Red Tails has given a lot of joy to some old vets who believed they’d never get any credit.
So credit to George for writing the check and making exactly the kind of uncynical, uncomplicated movie about the Tuskegee Airmen he thinks everyone should want to see.