Red Tails – review

What a wasted opportunity for George Lucas. Here we have the story of the first black (is that the correct term now?) fighter pilots in WWII and their struggle to be allowed to fight for their country, up against entrenched and endemic Racism. Not only did they succeed but they won a combined award for their outstanding bravery and performance. Their job was to protect American Bombers raiding Germay and they were the only Squadron who managed to lose not one single Bomber during their missions. So you have: politics, heroism, great action, technology in abundance, lots of potential personal stories and history all in one story. You also have the guy who made Star Wars at the helm. It should have been great, it was barely better than pap.

In fact I resigned myself to watching it purely for how bad it was – before the title credits. It opens with a really dire CGI bit of action with American P40 Kittyhawks(?) fighting Me109s. The German pilots are portayed as ice-cold manifestations of the devil who speak like Cybermen. Somebody has been reading too many Eagle comics. The stereo types were just way too much to take. The dialogue was pretty bad too.

Get this scene: American pilot goes to chapel after returning from mission. On mission one of his buddies had take a few risks and blown up a train. Chaplain in chapel asks guy what he is praying for. Answer: praying for my buddy. If he takes risks like that, one day he might not come back.

To be completely fair to the movie the opening cgi sequence is the worst in the movie. Its particularly bad, I think, because there are too few P40s flying to day to shoot real flying sequences. When they switch to P51 Mustangs much more real footage is used. However there are still daft bits: ie a real maneouvre a german pilot makes – a kind of corkscrew to get on the tail of his pursuer – this maneouvre was refined in Vietname. However the American pilot does his own version where he stall-loops his P51, a maneouvre which is impossible even today in a P51. It can only be achieved in a very few aircraft and only by worldclass pilots. Later on the movie has some better personal scenes: one of the American pilots falls for an Italian girl and some of those scenes are quite sensitive. I don’t think the actors were given much to work with, but they seem to do the best with what they have. There is a scene with one of them playing proper delta-blues on an acoustic. This scene could have been made more of. Also some fairly nice CGI of Me 262s but could have been a lot better with some weathering. They all looked like they had been rolled out of a showroom.

The film goes from being pap, all the way up to abysmal, and in a very few places, bearable.