Red Tails


Directed by Anthony Hemmingway. Starring Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Ne-Yo, Elijah Kelley, Bryan Cranston, Cuba Gooding Jr, Terrence Howard 12A cert, general release, 124 min

NEVER MIND the quality. Feel the worthiness. Though Red Tails does seem to have a director, the project is, weirdly, being sold on the contribution of its executive producer.

George Lucas – yes that one – has elected to tell the tale of African-American fighter pilots during the second World War. The film is relentlessly deferential, short on grime and impossibly corny. Each time the plucky pilots return to their base, apparently in possession of mid-century iPhones, they sit around watching footage of their latest triumph. It features an injured pilot who will do anything to get back in the air. The Germans really do say things like: “Die, you foolish African!” When set beside Red Tails, 1970s British boy comics such as Victor or Commando begin to look like searingly realistic combat studies.

We mean no offence, George. The film is unsophisticated but, enlivened by excellent, seamless CGI work, it is great fun. If Lucas’s recent official films as director were a quarter as entertaining, we wouldn’t feel the need to spit whenever his name appears on the wires.

Cuba Gooding Jr turns up as the pipe-smoking, cliché-spouting leader of the heroic squadron. Stationed in Italy, they are initially denied any significant duties and only allowed to fly speculative sorties behind lines. Appallingly, the top brass have chosen to believe an unreliable study that argued that African-Americans lacked the intelligence and bravery to accompany bombers or attack more dangerous targets.

It appears that the Red Tails (they painted their planes’ rear sections that colour) really did end up demonstrating their courage and skill. But it seems unlikely they did so in such spectacularly unlikely fashion. If the film is to be believed, the fighters’ cannons had the power to demolish entire battleships.

Who cares? This is a proper war film. That’s to say one with crazy dogfights and (no, really) Nazis with prominent scars. It seems they do still make ’em like they used to.