The family and I had the opportunity recently to see Red Tails, the George Lucas-produced historical film focusing on the famed Tuskegee Airmen – the fighter squadron made up entirely of African-American pilots who played an important role in America’s involvement in World War II.
It’s a film that Lucas had been fighting to bring to the big screen for over two decades – he reportedly self-financed the project with nearly $100 million of his personal fortune – and I can tell you that the end result is well worth that price tag. This is without a doubt one of the best war movies to come out of Hollywood in years, told with great respect and admiration for the subject matter and for the real-life pilots whose exploits inspired the project.
As was the case with the first three films he directed – THX-1138, American Graffiti and the original Star Wars – Lucas opted for a cast made up primarily of unknowns; its two best-known stars, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrance Howard, are mostly relegated to smaller supporting parts just as Alec Guinness was in Star Wars. And as in the case of those previous films the casting choices pay off; the main actors get the chance to make their mark, helping draw audiences into the story while at the same time setting the foundation for what we can only hope will be the kind of successful careers that Robert Duvall, Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford enjoyed in the wake of their work with Lucas.
The film’s narrative style harkens back to some of the great war films of the 1940s, such as Sergeant York or Twelve O’Clock High. This apparently has been something of a problem for a number of reviewers, who have dismissed Red Tails as a “hokey” film laden with all manner of cliches. (Some of these same reviewers have criticized the use of unknown actors in the lead roles; other have accused Lucas and director Anthony Hemingway of trying to make a World War II version of Glory, the film about a all-black Union regiment in the Civil War that earned an Oscar for Denzel Washington.)
I submit to you that these reviewers wouldn’t know a good movie if it reared up and bit them in the backside. There's nothing wrong with good old-fashioned heroics and patriotism, both of which are on ample display in Red Tails. I, for one, prefer this supposedly outdated kind of film to the likes of more “sophistcated” movies as The Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket or Inglourious Basterds.
Apparently audiences agree, because the film was the Number 2 box office attraction in its first weekend (behind the latest installment of that silly Underworld horror franchise) and seems well on its way to becoming a bona-fide hit. Which, to me, only proves once again that movie critics don't know as much as they like to think they do.
Here's what I know: The audience my family and I were part of – made up of a diverse cross-section of age and ethnicity – responded most favorably throughout the film, clapping on a number of occasions and cheering on others. One of my favorite example of the audience’s approval comes during a scene a line in which a white general tells the commander of the Tuskegee Airmen that he still opposes their participation in the war effort despite the support of other leaders. During the conversation the white general testily admonishes the black commander to have respect for the uniform, and the commander responds, "Believe me, that's ALL I have respect for."
That line got one of the loudest rounds of applause I’ve encountered in 40-plus years of moviegoing. And when the end credits began rolling, the audience honored the film with a STANDING OVATION. I can't remember the last time I went to a movie and saw that happen.
Is the film 100 percent historically accurate? Probably not; few films based on actual events ever are, even when actual participants in those events sign on as advisors. Does the film contain war movie cliches? A few, to be fair; but show me a war movie that doesn't, up to and including the more recent films listed above. Besides, whether we are willing to admit it or not, we've been conditioned to expect movies of particular genres to contain at least a few genre-specific cliches and are generally disappointed if they do not. Some may argue otherwise, but I've heard too many people complain that "that wasn't a real (insert genre here) movie because there was no (insert cliche here)" to accept your argument.
The bottom line is that Red Tails is one outstanding film, and anyone who says otherwise has got rocks in their head. This is the first movie I've seen in a long, long time that I would actually pay to go see again - and that’s really saying something!
In : Pop Culture
Tags: film review