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Red Tails (Blu-ray Review)

1 Jun, 2012 By: John Latchem

War Drama
Box Office $49.87 million
$29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some sequences of war violence.
Stars Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., David Oyelowo, Nate Parker, Elijah Kelley, Tristan Wilds, Method Man, Ne-Yo, Michael B. Jordan, Leslie Odom Jr., Marcus T. Paulk, Kevin Phillips, Andre Royo, Daniela Ruah, Gerald McRaney, Bryan Cranston.

Red Tails is an entertaining tribute to the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the African-American World War II pilots whom producer George Lucas had been trying to honor with a film for 24 years.

The effort has culminated in a movie that isn’t so much a recounting of their story as it is a snapshot of their various experiences during the war.

As Red Tails begins, the Airmen are already stationed in Italy as the 332nd fighter squadron, assigned minor missions such as patrols and destroying truck convoys and supply trains.

The film suggests the racism of the time, but does not immerse itself in it. A few scenes address the segregationist attitudes the pilots had to fight against, with officers clubs that didn’t serve blacks and Army brass who wanted to shut down the program before it had a chance to invalidate their bigotry.

Eventually, however, the 332nd is given a chance for some real duty escorting bomber squadrons that are sustaining too many casualties because white fighter pilots are too eager to peel off and engage German attackers, leaving the bombers undefended. When no bombers are lost under 332nd protection, the black pilots begin earning the respect of their white counterparts, who specifically request them for future missions.

The script offers a fictionalized composite of these exploits, but doesn’t delve too deeply into its characters, who exist mostly as war-movie types you get to know just enough to be able to root for them in the film’s breathtaking battle scenes and exhilarating dogfights.

The production values, on the other hand, are technically flawless. Typically for a film associated with Lucas, every shot looks like a postcard.

A more fact-based approach to the material is offered in the 1995 HBO TV movie The Tuskegee Airmen (available separately on Blu-ray), which covers more of their training and dealings with racism at home.

The Red Tails Blu-ray addresses the true story of the Airmen in the hour-long bonus documentary Double Victory: The Tuskegee Airmen at War. This program focuses a lot on a group of Tuskegee pilots assigned to a bomber squadron that never made it to the war. They bounced around various American bases before encountering a racist commander in Indiana and bringing to light his unfair treatment of them.

The Blu-ray also includes a look at the making of the film through interviews with Lucas, director Anthony Hemingway (previously best known for his television work on shows such as “Treme” and “The Wire”), composer Terence Blanchard, and other members of the cast and crew.

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