INSPIRED by a true story, Red Tails pays tribute to the brave African American fighter pilots who risked their lives during the Second World War when their country regarded them as second-class citizens.
Racial discrimination was rife in the US Army Air Corps even as the Allies rallied to combat the evils of fascism.
Top brass laboured under the illusion that “coloured personnel” were not suitably intelligent or quick-witted to fly fighter planes on the frontline.
So they reluctantly authorised an experiment to train 13 cadets for the rigours of war, consigning these brave 19- and 20 year olds to dilapidated aircraft in locations where there was no chance of them engaging the Luftwaffe.
When the pilots, known as the Tuskegee Airmen, were finally granted an opportunity to put their training into practice during the first raid on Berlin, the young men distinguished themselves.
From 1943 to 1945, they shot down more than 100 German fighter planes and earned 96 Distinguished Unit Citations, plus several Purple Hearts and Silver Stars.
Red Tails celebrates the camaraderie between the men and their airborne excellence with an old-fashioned adventure that says “chocks away” to serious discussion of the civil rights of the era in favour of thrilling dogfights and a tender romance across the language barrier.
Army brass represented by Colonel William Mortamus (Bryan Cranston) want to shut down the 332nd squadron under the command of Colonel AJ Bullard (Terrence Howard) and Major Emmanuel Stance (Cuba Gooding Jr).
Thankfully, Colonel Jack Tomilson (Lee Tergesen) is not so narrow-minded and he throws his support behind the African American airmen, who are based out of Ramitelli Airfield in Italy in 1944.
As the conflict escalates, the Tuskegee Airmen are gifted a daring mission to provide cover for an Allied beach landing.
Marty “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker), Joe “Lightning” Little (David Oyelowo), Ray “Junior” Gannon (Tristan Wilds), Samuel “Joker” George (Elijah Kelley) and Andrew “Smokey” Salem (Ne-Yo) take to the skies to prove their worth.
Meanwhile, Joe’s Italian sweetheart Sofia (Daniela Ruah) nervously awaits her lover’s return.
With Star Wars supremo George Lucas credited as executive producer, Red Tails doesn’t skimp on the digital effects, punctuating the drama on terra firma with some terrific battles.
Mercifully, director Anthony Hemingway hasn’t been seduced by 3D and has spared us that discomfort and expense, even though the dogfights would undoubtedly look spectacular in the eye-popping format.
While the film soars in the skies, on the ground there’s nothing original or challenging in the script and some key sequences, such as a daring escape from a prisoner of war camp, are oddly truncated.
Performances are solid, led by Parker and Oyelowo, with some barnstorming speeches from Gooding Jr and Howard to rally the men at the crucial hour.
Contains swearing and violence.
Release date: Wednesday, June 6
Review by Damon Smith