Review in a Hurry: George Lucas‘ dream project for over two decades hits the big screen with spectacular dogfights, a strong cast and an ample supply of well intentioned but clunky dialogue. The characters are fictional, but they’re based on the real life Tuskegee Airmen, the first all-African-American aerial combat unit to serve in World War II.
Less gritty than Saving Private Ryan, more squeaky-clean than Captain America, Tails zips like a speedier, higher flyin’ Top Gun.
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The Bigger Picture: In Italy between 1943-1945, the Tuskegee men are tired of their hand-me-down planes, and less than heroic assignments. (They have been relegated to bombing trains, and taking out other non-flying Germans machines.) But when an opportunity arises to escort a squadron of bomber planes behind enemy lines deep into Berlin, the real challenge is whether this troop can put aside their differences, work together and soar.
The plot’s fairly straightforward. Take out Nazis, prove themselves, all that. But when those hotshots are up in the air, it’s as exhilarating as Luke’s assault on the Death Star.
Even though it’s technically directed by Anthony Hemingway (The Wire) and written by John Ridley (Three Kings) and Aaron McGruder (Boondocks), the rush of energy, the show-stopping set pieces are pure Lucas magic.
Even the sound of the planes whizzing by recalls the Phantom Menace‘s pod race. Say what you will about Lucas’ tin ear, when the bearded one makes it visceral he’s hard to top. Flying high above Europe, swooping and darting with an endless array of planes, the cutting style delivers a terrific sense of urgency.
Better still, we’re right alongside the pilots in the cockpit. As hectic as things get, we’re never lost. This is how action should be done. A battle against the German’s superior jet squad is the film’s highlight.
Although there are plenty of eye-rolling inducing one-liners that feel too close to an old timey war reel, the mostly unknown cast is terrific.
Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terence Howard are the name stars, but the new faces are the ones to root for. Nate Parker plays “Easy” the team leader. “Lightning” (David Oyelowo) is his cocky second. One drinks too much, one is just too well, cocky. The rest of the team has a few familiar faces (Method Man! Andre Royo!)
An interesting twist on this type of ensemble is that none of them are any less than excellent at being a pilot. These young men are fully-abled if only the country would give them the chance to be the best.
While the Nazis are cardboard evil (the leader is very Vader-like with his glasses and gas mask) and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) is relegated to the racist U.S. officer role these parts are very minor. The overall feel of the film is about celebrating the Tuskegee’s as heroes.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Lucas has said in interviews that getting Red Tails made was a lot like the original Star Wars. Meaning, he had to stick to the action with no time for back-story. Considering this is the first major film about the Airmen, a little history to put all those super awesome air fights into context would have made more of an impression. Of course, we’re not saying we want prequels.
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