Wednesday, February 15, 2012

On the Allocation of Resources

Red Tails
 Cuba Gooding, Jr.
 Terence Howard
 Nate Parker
 David Oyelowo
Directed by
 Anthony Hemingway

I saw a trailer for this movie some months ago, and formed the preliminary opinion that it was a film I wanted to see. Then I saw George Lucas on the Daily Show, telling Jon Stewart how he had wanted for oh, so long to make this movie, and thought maybe I wouldn't like it after all, that it would be simply too preciously cloying in its "courage has no colour" sensibilities, and heavy-handed in its We-Are-All-Americans message.

Well, as is usual for my prejudices (in the literal sense of "judgement before the facts"), the kernel of accuracy was borne out, but that's all.

It actually is an enjoyable movie, in the Saturday-Afternoon-Matinee-serial style that Lucas seems so indelibly smitten with. There is plenty of action of the war-movie variety, and, as one would expect from the people that gave us Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, the special effects are so convincing that we wonder at times how it's possible they could be anything other than real. The plot is straightforward, as is the love-story subplot involving one of the pilots; though I thought the subplot involving another pilot who is captured by the Germans could have been left out. It seemed to serve no real purpose except to (a) give the actor playing that character something to do for his pay, and (b) give us a small happy moment near the end. 

The movie (based on a true story, meaning they took bare facts and made up a lot of stuff) is about the Tuskegee Airmen, the group of black pilots got up as an experiment during World War II. It begins with them flying routine patrols behind the front lines in Italy and ends with them doing more exciting stuff. That part of the story is true, and very well told.

The race-relations undertone of the movie was embodied by the white characters, some of whom were Klan types with nice uniforms, and some of whom were Radar O'Reilly types who, yes, see no blacks or whites but only Americans. Throw in the stereotypical blond Aryan Nazi villain, and you complete the roster of cardboard cut-outs masquerading as characters. The black characters were the focus of the movie, so their characters were more developed, though none very fully. The performers do well enough with what they were given, but, as is so often the case with George Lucas productions, the dialog sounds like it's being read off the back of a cereal box, or the pages of a comic book.

All in all, I think that if Mr Lucas is strapped for cash to invest in his films, he should spend a little more on good writers, even if it means he has less available to make the smoke look real.

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