Red Tails (2012 – Blu-ray)

“And you all thought what? You’d sign up, you’d get shiny boots, a uniform and that’d be the end of 100 years of bigotry? You’re colored men in the white man’s army. It’s a miracle you’re flying fighters in Italy and not mopping latrines in Milwaukee”

Despite a slew of luke warm reviews of ‘Red Tails’ from when it premiered in the US in January, I remained resolutely excited. This is because the aerial footage in the trailers looked breathtaking and because of extra interest kicked off by the controversy. I’ve already touched on that earlier in the year but it’s worth going into what went into the making of this Tuskegee Airmen biopic again.  ‘Red Tails’ has been a passion project for Producer George Lucas for two decades. But George’s desire to make it a huge $58 million war film always ran up against the timid/racist studios desire to not spend that much on a movie with an all-black cast. In the end George decided to fund it out of his own considerable pockets and turn the Directing duties over to ‘The Wire’s Anthony Hemingway who brought with him a roster of acting talent from the very same HBO series. He also brought in Spike Lee’s long-term musical collaborator, trumpeter Terence Blanchard who worked for HBO on Spike’s magnificent ‘When The Levees Broke’ documentary.  This is fitting as it was HBO who  first produced a celebrated TV movie about the Tuskegee Airmen in 1995 (Like ‘Red Tails’ it also starred Cuba Gooding Jr!)..

The movie tells the true story of the renowned Tuskegee Airmen who were a group of African-American pilots in WWII facing massive prejudice but who ultimately proved their worth by being the best of the best. They were so good that Bomber crews would request an escort from “Those planes with the red tails”, sometimes unaware that those planes had black pilots.  The only flaw I could find with ‘Red Tails’ was that it occasionally lurched into that kind of patriotic smaltz that American audiences seem to like but which to British ears sounds phony.  That aside, the performances are brilliant without exception including; R&B singer Ne-Yo’s charming turn as a mumbling Southern pilot with a love of music and chewin’ tobacco, Nate Parker and England’s own David Oyelowo forming the touching friendship at the core of the story and Terrence Howard’s performance was so intense that actor Bryan Cranston didn’t dare meet his steely gaze.  The dog-fighting footage will take your breath away, with the full possibilities of CGI being used to make the camera soar around the planes as they scream past your eyes and ears, it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.  The ensemble cast of lovable roguish airmen reminded me of another WWII film, a favourite of mine, the much underrated 1990 movie ‘Memphis Belle’.

The other day I saw an American import Blu-Ray of ‘Red Tails’ in one of my favourite London haunts The Cinema Store and snapped it up. The transfer is gorgeous, the sound rich and loud and the disc is stuffed with extra features including a feature-length doc.  However it’s disappointing that a film with this much excitement, drama and spectacle should first sneak almost unnoticed onto these shores on the home market instead of as the thundering Cinema Blockbuster it’s meant to be.  A limited release in UK theatres is arriving next week so make sure you ignore the Lucas haters and find a Cinema that is showing Anthony Hemingway’s astounding ‘Red Tails’.

Here’s one of the featurettes featuring the real Airmen meeting the cast while the Director’s mum cooks:

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