Monday, July 16, 2012

Red Tails (2012)

    If ever there was a movie that simultaneously showcased the trademark Lucasian tone-deaf dialogue delivered in a monotone with the kind of direction that makes Flyboys (2006) look like Memphis Belle (1990), and Memphis Belle look like Twelve O'Clock High (1949) in comparison, then that movie would be Red Tails (2012).  Feeling the need to abandon any of the compelling real-life stories from the heroic Tuskegee Airmen, John Ridley and Aaron McGruder instead throw as many stereotypes at the audience as possible, never bothering to form any kind of coherent bond between scenes of characters.  This is problematic in a film where the filler material – everything that is not thrilling aerial combat – dominates the screen time.
     Most troubling to me was the choice to soft peddle the American racism towards the titular Red Tails, and black soldiers in general.  Brian Cranston has a few scenes to respectfully express his dim view of the colored in uniform, but there is no feel of institutional weight behind his prejudice.  Worse, it never seems that Cranston's Colonel Mortamus believes his lines.  He is the worst incarnation of the paper villain, one that is in place for Terrence Howard's Colonel Bullard to give a mild repudiation.  If this is Lucas' vision of addressing the racism of the era, then he never should have been allowed to contribute more to the film than money.
     There are plenty of other failings, and some that may or may not be failings.  In the latter category fall the following – the "brand new 109s" in 1945, presumably Bf-109s (arguably the best looking single engine fighter plane in the war) that would have been supplanted by a variety of other fighters; the P-40s that look less like the planes that the Flying Tigers made famous and more like modified P-35s; the timing of when the first escorted daylight bombing runs of Berlin occurred.  The obvious failings had more to do with character development, but there were a surprising number of technical issues as well.  The air combat was surprisingly dull and lifeless.  It managed to be somehow too crisp to pass for authentic and too slow to serve as exciting segments.  Add to that the inclusion of a recurring enemy pilot (who speaks Duetsch so slowly that even I didn't need a translation) who serves as a very old-school kind of villain is the only sense that the Nazis are the ones who the Americans are really fighting, and you have a movie that just doesn't have any conception of the setting it adopted as its own.
     I feel somewhat bad for the actors involves in this project, who likely signed on thinking that there was going to be a serious attempt to depict the heroism of the real life aviators.  Sure, most of them couldn't figure out how to give a reading and move at the same time (I am quite serious in that criticism; most of the actors had to stand perfectly still to give anything more than a wooden recitation of their lines).  David Oyelowo manages to bring some life to his character (Joe "Lightning" Little) away from the action, and that may have been a better movie than what was put together.  This has all the marks of a project that went into shooting without a finished script.  Instead, it seems that the decision was made to make a movie with some WWII air combat and there wasn't much consideration given to the audience's eventual concern for a compelling story within the movie.

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