“Red Tails:” What the Critics are saying

Posted on January 23, 2012 /Film

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The all-black film “Red Tails” just smashed the box office over the past weekend with over $19 million in ticket sales.

The film is based on the true story of the heroic Tuskegee Airmen, who were the first group of black soldiers trained as fighter pilots in World War 2. The film stars Terrance Howard, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Nate Parker, Marcus T. Paulk, Andrew Royo, Neyo, Tristan Wilds, Kevin Phillips, Michael B Jordan, and a slew of other black actors. The screenplay was written by John Ridley and “Boondocks” cartoonist Aaron McGruder–with Star Wars creator George Lucas producing and financing the project.

Many industry players were shocked at the overperformance of an all-black period film. They weren’t expecting that now, were they? Well, the reviews are in and they’re pretty much saying the same thing–the script sucks. But what about the acting?

Huffington Post gave a scathing review that read:

“But the questions of racial inequality are touched upon with broad strokes. Meanwhile, the black fighter squadron is made up of the hoariest of stereotypes: the conscientious leader who has a drinking problem; the hot-shot pilot who is always disobeying orders and taking risks; the devoutly religious one that everyone calls Deacon; and, of course, a couple of cartoonishly happy-go-lucky country lads. They don’t all make it out alive — and you won’t have much trouble figuring out which ones won’t survive the film.

They don’t get blasted out of the sky any too soon — certainly not before your patience for this grindingly slow film runs out. Red Tails doesn’t crash and burn — mostly because it barely gets off the ground.”

The Boston Globe reviewed some of the main characters performances:

“Howard, especially, seems burdened with responsibility. Whenever he speaks, it’s as if he might never get the chance again. He and [David] Oyelowo evoke different aspects of the old Sidney Poitier dilemma, Howard in his intense dignity, Oyelowo in his attempt to turn his natural British accent American and loose. The sight of Howard denouncing racism in uniform while seated at the Pentagon carries a gust of uplift. But it would be dishonest to say that he’s better here than he was as a rapping pimp. For any actor, down and dirty is more fun than pressed and starched. But pressed-and-starched is all this movie can afford to be.”

The Chicago Tribune gave their two cents on the actors and the script:

“The actors do all they can. But Lucas and company did not get the script right with this one, which is the single, dubious link ‘Red Tails’ has to ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.’ ”

LA Times complains about the same problems over the script.

Yes, and they also deserve some dramatic vitality and plausibility. If you go to “Red Tails” to learn anything (even heavily fictionalized things) about the origin of the Tuskegee Airmen or the workaday racism they had to endure, you will be disappointed. When Howard’s defiant colonel upbraids the Pentagon brass over their disdain for his men, the sequence is straight out of a comic book, per co-writer McGruder’s description. But if we can’t believe a scene such as this one would ever have happened that way, not in a million Earth years, then there’s no real gratification in it.

What did you think of the film? Share your thoughts below.

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