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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Review: Red Tails

The Movie Report

***; Rated PG-13

One quality of Anthony Hemingway's Red Tails likely to receive a bit of criticism from snarkier-than-thou mainstream movie media is actually one of its strongest virtues: the sincere, unironic, unapologetically throwback sensibility, playing much like a product from or directly after the WWII era. That its stalwart hero pilots engaging in aerial dogfight derring-do to a shamelessly swelling musical score happen to be African-American then rather pointedly highlights just how unfair it's taken this long for the legendary Tuskegee Airmen to get their proper, larger than life big screen treatment. After all, what they did do in real life was just as, if not more than, impressive than what white military heroes would do in reel life at the time. That old fashioned, almost square approach, from the archetypal lead characters to broadly sneering Nazi villainy to what are now war movie story conventions (e.g. love with a European local; being trapped behind enemy lines), adopted by Hemingway and screenwriters John Ridley and Aaron McGruder thus feels like a corrective to that long-standing cinematic inequity, to finally give these oft-overlooked patriots a retro rah-rah-worthy vehicle of their own.

But there is also more going on here than old school genre homage: it's also a solidly executed example of such an inspirational entertainer, equal parts excitement and heart. In the former category, Hemingway has fun using all the decidedly un-retro 2012 Industrial Light and Magic digital effects toys at his disposal for the many aerial warfare sequences. Given that this is a Lucasfilm Ltd. production, similarities to Star Wars (most specifically, the original) will inevitably be called out, but that's not exactly an insult for action filmmaking. What has long proven to work with X-Wings and TIE Fighters very much translates in thrilling fashion to an Earthbound combat context.

None of characters here are based on any specific real-life figures, and as such they fall for the most part into conventional character types; that said, they are all lent human dimension by the actors. Given the size of the cast (Tristan Wilds, Elijah Kelley, Ne-Yo, Michael B. Jordan, Method Man, Andre Royo, Marcus T. Paulk, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Terrence Howard are among the recognizable faces here), some of men in the unit inevitably get more screen attention than others, but serving as an equalizing force is the unforced and genuine camaraderie between the guys, helped by some amusing banter from Ridley and McGruder's pen. That chemistry is especially evident between the lead buddy pair of Nate Parker and, the certain breakout of the ensemble, David Oyelowo. As, respectively, the hard-drinking captain and reckless daredevil of the group, they forge a believably brotherly tough love rapport and have the effortless gravitas to sell and serve as a compelling emotional anchor for all the action.

But, of course, what makes this film that is (per the opening titles) "inspired by real events" certain to inspire future real events is the enduring legacy of the Airmen. If Red Tails isn't quite the information-heavy lecture of a historical drama some may be expecting, the Tuskegee Airmen's genuine spirit of courage, dedication, and brotherhood is rather fittingly honored and embodied by what is a rousing adventure picture.

Order the Red Tails poster here.
Order the Red Tails DVD here.
Order the Red Tails Blu-ray here.
Order the Red Tails soundtrack here.

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