Red Tails – Movie Review
Red Tails has received a healthy bit of publicity as of lately. It all started with the (remarkably well-timed) revelation from George Lucas that studios did not want to make this movie because the main cast is black. So, he put his own money on the line (even though he’s richer than God, and 58 million is next to nothing to him), and made the film. With that piece of information alone, the movie earned a ton of goodwill from the black community. In fact, people were praising this movie way in advance without actually investigating if it is a “good” movie or not. As a black man, I find this troubling.
Which begs the question: Is it good? Well…. Here’s the thing. The movie feels remarkably dated and incredibly out-of-touch in its storytelling. HOWEVER, I think this is an intentional choice on the part of the filmmakers. The movie is meant to be in the style of the older war adventure films… Patriotic, corny, and very very obvious in its storytelling and dialogue. I believe this to be an aesthetic choice on the part of the filmmakers. Us black folks have never had our own big goofy patriotic action movie. This is it.
And, on that level, I find the movie to be really enjoyable and entertaining IF taken on that level and ONLY that level. This is not the savior of black hollywood that we’ve been led to believe it is. Instead, what we get is an entertaining diversion. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I find the only problematic thing about the old-fashioned storytelling is the dialogue… There are a TON of just cringe-worthy, face-palm inducing bits of dialogue that feel so unbelievably obvious, that it almost throws you out of the movie. The characters are more like archetypes. These characters don’t really have quirks, they have themes. One is the hot-headed ace pilot. One is the flawed but virtuous leader. One is the new kid who has to earn the respect of his peers. One is the religious guy. And, Cuba Gooding Jr’s character is the guy who gives orders while chomping on a pipe.
And, therein lays the films biggest problem. Outside of maybe two or three characters, we don’t know these people by anything except what their one theme is. In order for me to care, I must know these people. I must connect with them. I must be able to see myself in them. But, I can’t. Because, they are archetypes, which lends to the aesthetic of the film, but is still problematic.
One thing that won me over early on is its treatment of an interracial relationship. In other movies, the fact that it is interracial would dominate the plotline, and that would be the only thing to distinguish itself. But, here in this film, race is not mentioned ONCE in this relationship. Instead, these are just two people who seem to be falling for each other. The movie respects the characters enough to have their relationship evolve out of love, and not race.
However, one thing that cannot be taken away from this movie is the ariel battle sequences. They are awesome, and tons of fun to watch. For some reason, they feel like they are from a completely different movie than the one that takes place on the ground. For some reason, that is where all the excitement is, and where all the most interesting story stuff happens. But, no matter what, the movie is a crowd-pleaser. The audience ate it up, and none of the critiques I had about the movie (including one unbelievably obvious cliche that I didn’t even think would be in the movie) are going to matter to the audience who will go and see this.
So, I would recommend it. There is something entertaining in how earnest and how genuinely good-intentioned it is almost as if to be naive. Even during the movie’s most hokey and cliche bits of dialogue, it remains 100% non-cynical, and delivers those lines of dialogue with a naive conviction that is, it its own strange way, rather refreshing. However, don’t buy that this is going to save “black hollywood“. It won’t. It will entertain those who know will let it. And, that’s all it needs to do.