Red Tails Disappoints

As a new-media and social-media guy, you build audience by getting excited about your subject matter and getting the audience excited, too. But you build credibility when you point out the ugly among the good. I really wish that this post wasn’t going to have to be about credibility. Or about ugly. But it is.

I just got home from seeing Red Tails. I had heard that the film had received less than stellar reviews, but I made it a point to avoid others’ opinions and go see the film for myself.

I’m so disappointed. It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion.  Here’s what I saw.

Every character was a mere caricature. Even Cuba Gooding, Jr. was an absolutely, completely, and entirely flat cardboard cutout like the rest of the cast.

The dialogue was unbearably hackneyed. Aircrew saying lines that no aircrew outside of a Hollywood soundstage has ever said or will ever say.

The villain is perhaps the worst caricature of all. You don’t have to squint hard to see the resemblance to Fearless Leader from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. I’m not kidding. Complete with dueling scar of the same size, shape, and location on his right cheek. I can’t make up stuff like this. The only thing that they left out was the monocle.

I’m not a customs-and-courtesies maven. But I’m guessing that no CAP cadet who saw some of the salutes rendered in the film (or the timing of some of them) would have been able to keep his or her cookies down. Maybe the salute or the appropriate places and times for salutes were different in Italy in World War II. But I don’t think so.

They even got the guitar wrong. The guitar is strummed by thumb with open hand with downstrokes only, but (a) the right hand clearly never makes contact with the strings and (b) the overdubbed guitar is being strummed both up and down with the backs of the fingers on the downstroke and the back of the thumb on the upstroke. Strangely, at least the left hand looked semi-normal. It might even have saved the guitar sequences had the guitar playing actually started and stopped in synch with the overdub.

Not one story line was compelling. Not even the “we’ll stay with the bombers” thread. Every single story line seemed made up on the spot in the scene in which it first appeared and begged the viewer to lay the foundation by some sort of moviegoing time travel that the director and screenwriter couldn’t be bothered with. It’s as though Christopher Paolini wrote the screenplay.

And I haven’t even gotten to the flying sequences. So let’s get to the flying sequences.

The in-cockpit footage was astonishingly bad. None of the pilots moved or reacted in turns or other maneuvers in a way that looked even remotely real. The green-screen horizon merely moved in the background as they sat straight up or head-faked a lean that bore no resemblance to the actual reaction of a pilot under those inertial circumstances. And, to make matters worse, the most dramatic grunting and straining happened at the most inaccurate times possible (such as grunting and shouting on the float over the top of a loop or Immelman, at which time the pilot is generally experiencing near-zero G).

We live in the age of the GoPro Hero camera. Even a knucklehead like me can shoot compelling in-cockpit video and then watch it to see what pilots actually look like under G and in turns, pulls, pushes, slips, and skids. How difficult could it have been to shoot some face-on cockpit video (or just do some of the most elementary browsing on the Internet), pay attention, and come up with some realistic instructions for the actors? Who did the technical consulting on this film? Do I even want to know?

The pièce de résistance of Lucas thumbing his nose at Newton, Bernoulli, and North American Aviation is the final scene in which a four-ship of P-51s comes in low over the presentation on the ramp and then pulls into the vertical. And holds it for an impossibly long time. I presume that, after the fade to black, there was a formation tailslide the precision and coordination of which has never been seen before or since. Or the loss of four P-51s and most of the assembled company on the ramp. I suppose that the formation might have been looping, but it seemed to me that the upline continued in the vertical and that, even if the formation was looping, it had inadequate energy at the pull to actually get it all the way around and not impact terrain.

Even the sound was wrong. Every piece of cockpit dialogue was clear and had the acoustics of being spoken in a quiet space with acoustic baffling. But Jug and Mustang cockpits have the acoustics of – well – Jug and Mustang cockpits. They’re loud as hell. There’s no way that normal speech caught by a mic in a mask that’s laying down on the pilot’s shoulder would be that intelligible over that din. And, more to the point, the absence of even a hint of that din made the whole thing look, sound, and feel sterile and disassociated with anything even approaching an airplane cockpit.

There are a couple of instances in which the P-51s throttle up. And you hear the engine as the throttle moves forward. But that’s it. You don’t ever really hear it at any other time. How could a sound designer for a movie that features P-51D Mustangs so utterly fail to incorporate the sound of a Merlin engine into the film? How?

Lucas had an opportunity to accurately show the snap roll and subsequent near-tumble used to cause an Fw 190 to overshoot, thus allowing the P-51 to stitch the Fw 190 diagonally with guns as it overshot. But I’m reasonably sure that the pull shown was way too slow for the maneuver and that a pull that slow would simply have resulted in a mere loop or Immelman entry instead of the immediate stall and autorotation that is shown onscreen. Any snap roll that I’ve ever heard of requires a much more rapid pull to force the stall quickly and start the autorotation.

The exterior aerial scenes were awful in their own ways. I did like the wide shots of the furball in progress. That was cool. But that’s only because there was too much going on for the bothersome details to show up. I’m sure that at least one of the aircraft has the tail number THX 1138. Me, I’m hoping that some hero CGI animator snuck in an easter egg on the belly of a bomber that reads “Han shot first.”

Has anyone else noticed that every turn seemed flat and skidded? I have it on good authority that most P-51s were equipped with ailerons. But the P-51s in Red Tails skidded around every turn in ways that made it seem that the ailerons were shimmed to half-effectiveness. It might just be my eye and I’ve only seen the film once. But I’m pretty sure that there was a lot of skidding.

The Me 262s in the movie mixed it up with the P-51s in dogfights. In fact, the Luftwaffe attacked bomber streams almost exclusively by using diving and slashing attacks. Me 262s were few and precious to the Luftwaffe and the Luftwaffe didn’t risk them in slow, turning dogfights. The tremendous speed advantage of the Me 262 made it unnecessary for them to go after American fighters. They simply streaked in through the fighter escort cloud and unloaded their four 30mm cannons on the bombers. Why would an Me 262 pursue American fighters if their objective was actually to attack the bomber stream and their speed advantage permitted them to do so with relative impunity? Yet the Red Tails Me 262s are there on the screen chasing down (and then strangely not overshooting ) P-51s.

These are just my impressions a few hours after walking out of the theater. I didn’t take notes. I didn’t expect that I’d need to take notes because I had no idea going in that I’d feel compelled to write this blog entry. You should feel free to send me hate mail or leave comments here on the blog. I’m sure that I’ve screwed up something. But also pretty sure that I’m right about most of this.

I’m glad that people remember and honor the Tuskegee Airmen. I’ve met more than my share and these men deserve a great deal of praise. The 332nd Fighter Group’s deeds stand on their own, far beyond any poor ability of anyone else to style, characterize, or flavor.

Aviation needs its heroes. Aviation needs all the exposure that it can get in every medium possible. We desperately need another Top Gun to inspire both us and the next generation. For all of the above reasons, I wanted very much to find some basis for praising Red Tails.

There is no basis of any kind upon which to praise this movie. It’s awful. I groaned involuntarily and audibly several times. I couldn’t help myself. It was one of the most uncomfortable experiences I’ve ever had in a theater. It’s so bad in so many ways that it’s simply unwatchable. I only stayed because I was with my brother-in-law and my son and I held out some hope that they were having a good time and were not picking up on what I was seeing.

If news broke tomorrow that Lucasfilm had inadvertently released a rough cut and it turned out that what I saw in the theater tonight was one of those rough cuts, I would completely believe that news. Except that the acting was also so awful that not even a re-cut of the film could have made it into anything approximating what I’d expect from Lucasfilm (at least the Lucasfilm of old).

The last insult on top of injury is that Red Tails occupies a space in the rhythm of movie opportunities that might have been occupied by a better film. The last time there was adequate funding, interest, and market for a feature-length drama about the Tuskeegee Airmen was in 1995 when HBO produced Tuskegee Airmen, starring Laurence Fishburne. It has taken these past 16 years to get to the point where there’s enough interest to support another film. Even so, George Lucas invested $58 million of his own money into making the film.

It’ll be at least another decade – maybe two – before the market is ready for another Tuskegee feature film. And this was probably the last opportunity to have a Tuskegee movie on theater screens while actual Tuskegee airmen still live and breathe. Lucas shot this cycle’s only wad on Red Tails.

Before getting up out of my seat in the theater, I tweeted “I cant begin to say how disappointed I am after seeing Red Tails. I’m so very, very sorry.” So now I’ve begun. And I am most deeply sorry that the film ended up being what it is. I was really excited to see it. Perhaps that added to the disappointment.

It is probably impolitic to criticize Red Tails. Most aviation media have been frothing at the mouth for months over the impending release and running all kinds of excited features.  I expect hate mail. There was such a swell of enthusiasm in the aviation community about it that I feel like a heretic in actually putting these observations out there. But I’m pretty sure that any pilot who saw the film is thinking what I’m thinking. It’s a painful exercise in credibility to actually say it. But I’m saying it.


About Steve Tupper

Stephen Force is the superhero alter ego of mild-mannered tech and aviation lawyer, commercial pilot (glider, with private privileges in ASEL, ASES, AMEL, IA, and DC-3 (SIC) type-rated), and Civil Air Patrol lieutenant colonel Steve Tupper. Steve writes, records, and brings you the inside story about everything that really matters in aviation. He's flown with the USAF Thunderbirds, he's and airshow performer and air boss, and he's one of only five pilots ever to earn a FAST card in the glider category. Follow Steve's ongoing quest to do all that is cool in aviation at or on Twitter as @StephenForce.


  1. I’m a little surprised to see you so disappointed in Red Tails. My preview post about the movie shared my concern that the film was gonna be exactly as you feel it is, but that means I had very low expectations for the movie going in (based on the trailers I had seen).

    I held back on being all excited about it because I was afraid it would do a disservice to the Tuskegee Airmen. And while I feel it’s far from the film it should have been, especially with the resources of Lucas behind it, I found it to be quite acceptable.

    Technically, it’s a horrible mess, but enough other elements were in place in my opinion to make an entertaining film based on extraordinary true events, and most important, the courageous Tuskegee Airmen were clearly and effectively honored… especially in the eyes of George’s intended audience: teenage boys.

    Sleep on it. maybe you’ll feel better about it tomorrow : )

  2. I agree with Martt, I had actually expected them to make a mess of the technical aspects. The one thing that jumped out at me by the way was that every time one of those 100mph landing, tailwheel aircraft touched down they had a wingman within 40 or 50 feet. I doubt that was SOP. To give the acting credit I will say the scenes where the colonel was dealing with bigotry in DC were very inspiting, along with his handling of the pilots. Go to the movie to enjoy seeing P51s (OK, fake ones) streak across the sky and dominate anything it comes in contact with.

  3. Stephen, I too was disappointed in this movie that I had the highest hopes for. You just said it a whole lot better than I ever could.

  4. Maj Howard Morris says:

    Steve, your comments were exactly right on. EXACTLY my sentiments and a few more.

  5. Randy Walberg says:

    Steve, you summarized my thoughts exactly, almost to the detail. Six of us went together and had a hard time even talking about it afterward. Too bad such an inspiring story was so badly treated.

  6. Right on, Steve. I also was extremely disappointed in Red Tails. Even if you forget entirely about the flying part, a story that should have been inspiring was anything but. It was way too formulaic, including the contrived love story and the death of the hero… Quite a few of the things that really felt forced should have been dropped to make way for the actual story – The real story is quite compelling, and here they simply dropped the ball in telling it. Epic fail.

  7. Mike Gentile says:

    The P-51 was always overated. The FW-190E was as Chuck Yeager said was just as good.

    • Funny how quotes take on a life on their own. The quote I heard attributed to Yeager was, “I’ve flown all the single engine prop fighters and the P-51 was the best”. He was supposed to be refering to the fact that he test flew all the captured fighters after the war. Wonder which quote is accurate, and by the way, if you ever get a chance to get a ride in one of those over rated 51s and want to pass it up call me, I’ll crawl across broken glass to get there.

    • John Bucko says:

      The P-51 had to fly 600 miles , maybe more one way, so lots of extra fuel and tankage on board, even after dropping the tanks. The 50 caliber MG’s were heavy at 64 lbs each plus feed and mounting + ammo . The FW -190 was a good fighter, but like the Spitfire, it lacked the range and pilots were in the cockpit 2-1/2 hours at most, before landing & refueling for another go round. Also, with the exception of the jet ME 262′s, every German prop fighter in the movie was an ME-109. No FW-190′s noted in the movie. Advanced in 1937, the 109 was current in 1940-43, it was dated by the end of the war aerodynamically and only powerful engines kept its performance close to the Mustang. Like the FW-190, the 109 had limited flight time and used a centerline auxilliary fuel tank to chase bombers across European skies for a couple hundred miles.

  8. I saw the movie as a non-pilot. Please explain how would they be able to tell the story if some dramatic license wasn’t used. You mentioned the cockpit noise would have been extremely loud and they couldn’t have been heard if the masks were down. That would have ben a fun movie to watch, imperceptible dialogue, and realist sound. As non pilot, I looked for the story of the men, not the exact portrayal of the aircraft. Showing the planes landing as they did was unrealistic, I concede, but how do you portray real air ops in a realist fashion? The planes would be so far apart you couldn’t see them if they were shown in realistic scale, and maneuvers. Probably for nit picking pilots this movie was junk. But for an audience member that just wanted to see the story, it was fine. I agree that the Hero and the love interest was a little hokey, and the prisoner thing was probably very understated, and maybe conjured. But the dramatic effect of the story was not overstated. Those men did suffer a lot of racist hate, and yet they did contribute, in no small, way to the war effort. That story need to be told, even if it had to use some dramatic license about airplanes and air ops to do it. Many Americans, Black and White, don’t know this story. If they need historical facts, they are available to right the wrongs of cinematic story telling. Give the Red Tails a break! They deserve to be honored.

  9. I have a technical question that I am very curious about. In the movie, the Red Tails supposedly shot down an ME-262 Jet Fighter. Is that true? Did any American pilot shoot down an ME-262? If so, how many?
    Thank you

  10. Allied kills of M2 262 were uncommon, but not unheard of. Most were accomplished while the Me 262 was taking off or landing – phases of flight in which the 262 was vulnerable. I found an ostensible summary of Me 262 kills at I haven’t vetted any of the information, but it’s a start.

    Long story short, few or no kills occurred in the way shown in Red Tails. As stated in the post, 262s didn’t engage Allied fighters in slow turning fights. They engaged in slashing attacks, similar to the tactics used by P-51s and F-4Us against Japanese Judys and Zeroes in the pacific and by F-4s against MiGs in Vietnam. If you have a material speed and power advantage – as in those cases – it makes no sense to engage directly. Dive in, slash, climb away, repeat.

    • Thanks again Steve!

      This is the type of information I have been looking for. I made a simple comment on a Youtube trailer about this movie being inspiring and needing to be told, and you wouldn’t believe the hate, vitriol and language that was used against me and the Tuskegee Airmen… I was called a “nigger loving lying Jew” (and I’m not Jewish by any stretch, but how would they know?) and a lot of other things for a simple congratulatory post. I was really taken aback by the intensity and vulgarity of the attacks. One jerk from Canada even started slamming US airmen with unbelievably horrendous language and spite. No one seems to be on the fence about this movie, they either enjoyed it, or hated it, with no middle ground afforded. I started to dig for facts after those attacks, to either prove them wrong, or myself wrong. I can deal with facts whether they support or upend my position. The personal attacks really pissed me off. So that’s how I happened upon your blog. I was/am seeking truth. Thanks for the link, I will check it out.

      I am satisfied that you disliked the movie, but respected the airmen. Which for me, was the whole point. They were to be respected for what they did, not just who they were. Movie making is a mercurial undertaking to say the least. Everyone has an agenda. Probably was good for me to not know the technicals about the airplanes, or precise History of the airmen before I saw the movie. Not knowing made it easy for me to just enjoy the story, even though I had my own reservations about it. I will continue to seek more truth about this historical event. I really do appreciate your input. Thanks, Mel

      • why would you believe anthing written by a youtube troll.

      • I long ago gave up on there being any rational discussion in YouTube comments.

        One of the things that most pleases me about this blog and about Airspeed in general is the objective and rational level of commentary that happens here. I don’t think I’ve ever disapproved a comment other than because it was pure spam.

      • John Bucko says:

        Most of the racial hatred-anti Jew internet rethoric these days come from fundamentalist Muslims living in Canada and the US…often the sons of immigrants from Islamic nation war zones, who continue to hear the hate speech at the mosque, even though they are over here, not over there in near Asia.

  11. Mel:

    1. There’s a difference between taking dramatic license and completely making up stuff. Additionally, they could at least have made up good stuff and not made up really awful and contrived stuff. Memphis Belle and Glory take dramatic license. Red Tails is badly-written and badly-performed crap.

    2. The dialogue need not have been unintelligible to be authentic. Just something a little noisier than the nearly silent environment shown. Additionally, no pilot would have just left the mask with the mic down on his chest because he could not have been heard on the radio.

    3. In case you were wondering, you didn’t see the story of the men.

    4. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the Tuskegees and those who make movies about them are the same thing or deserve the same praise. The Tuskegees’ achievements are far beyond any poor power that you, I, or Lucas might have to describe them. There’s a great deal of knee-jerk sentiment out there that says that anything that anybody does that’s linked to the Tuskegees deserves the respect that the Tuskegees deserve. That sentiment couldn’t be more wrong. Am I supposed to praise a cheap paper weight or keychain with the Tuskegee Airmen name silk-screened onto it? Of course not. Why, then, does criticism of a really bad movie about the Tuskegee Airmen have anything to do with the Tuskegee Airmen?

    It seems that the makers of this shabby film are enjoying the protection of the aura of the Tuskegee Airmen and that we, the audience, are allowing the producers to bask there. Quite to the contrary, respect for the Tuskegee Airmen should move us to be harshly critical of any corner-cutting, laziness, sloth, inaccuracy, or contrivance on the producers’ part.

    The producers of Red Tails could have made a much better movie for no additional money and little additional effort. The producers of Red Tails are talented enough, well-enough financed, and have been around long enough, to know better.

    Bottom line: Jump on Netflix or Comcast On Demand dig into your DVD collection and watch Edward Zwick’s film, Glory. Lucas had the opportunity and the means to do something like that for the Tuskegee Airmen. And he totally and irrevocably blew it.

    That’s unforgivable.

    • Steve, Thank you for the response. Since I am not a pilot, nor an Military Aviation historian, my appraoch to the movie was very simplistic. What was the story, what did they do, etc. in a general way. I can appreciate a pilot’s frustration with scenes that don’t depict actual conditions. I’m sure that makes them feel that this is fake. But to the average viewer that is not a pilot, how would they know what is, and what is not, authentic? I was just happy to see that this story was told, even if done poorly. I have heard of these brave men in bits and pieces for a long while. To see their story was inspiring, and I think long overdue. I am not a black man, but I do believe in equality of the individual in our society. To me, that was the tale, these men earned respect, whether they got it or not.

      I too believe that the story was a bit contrived and “hokey”. Can’t argue that. The technical aspects were wanting, I agree. I served with the Navy aboard an aircraft carrier, with both Navy and Marine squadrons aborad.and as a Marine helicopter radio Technician. So, I am not completely devoid of reference. I thank you for the technical info, and insight of how a pilot views things in his area of expertise.

      • Many thanks for the kind words! And thanks for your service!

        I look at the accuracy of a film as a matter of trust. One builds trust by being accurate and faithful to the facts and circumstances even when one could easily get away with serving up something that’s untrue. Especially when it wouldn’t have taken much to actually make it faithful to the facts and circumstances. For many people, Red Tails will be the only source of information about the Tuskegees to which they’ll ever be exposed. To feed them misinformation – especially when doing it right would have been relatively easy – is wrong. It just sticks in my craw.

        You know how they say that integrity is measured by what you do when you’re not being watched? Most people aren’t watching Lucas – They aren’t capable of seeing what was inaccurate. Knowing this, Lucas took advantage of not being watched and goofed off on the job. It’s an integrity problem.

        And, frankly, a lot of the frustration came from thinking from the trailers that we were going to get to see something realistic and gritty that pilots could appreciate and that would teach even experienced aviators a little more about what it was like. Shame on me for falling for the head fake.

  12. Historian says:

    What particularly bothered me was the depiction of the ME 262. Their noses didn’t look anything like the menacing planes depicted in the movies. ME 262 did shoot down numerous P-51s, but generally tried to avoid dogfights in order to focus on the destruction of the Allied bombers.

    There were some gratuitous sub-plots in the movie. The most ridiculous was the prison camp sequence with an escape from a Stalag in which a black airman successfully made it back to the airbase.

    I also doubt that white officers invited any Tuskegee Airmen into a white officers’ club. If I remember correctly, they did send them a case of whiskey. This likely was an unfortunate attempt by the movie’s producer to lessen the extent of the racial animosity encountered by these black heroes.

    I thought the historic accuracy of HBO’s “Tuskegee Airmen” was much, much better and more accurate, even portraying actual historic figures in an authentic manner. It was a much more satisfying film IMO.

    If you want to see best documentary history that I’ve seen of the horrors of the air war in the European theater from a pilot’s perspective, try to view the PBS “A Fighter Pilot’s Story.”

    Of course, it lacks the special effects of “Red Tails,” but it does have much authentic combat footage.

    Where “Red Tails” got it wrong was by focusing on special effects in lieu of a more polished script and plot. Having seen the Star Wars prequels, this seems typical of George Lucas. What happened to the guy that produced the original Star Wars trilogy?

  13. Desmond Burrell says:

    Firstly, let me say that the only reason I’m posting on your website is because I saw your attempt at making fun of people who liked the movie as “drinking kool-aid”. Some minor background on myself, I’m a pilot, graduate of ERAU, HUGE aviation enthusiast (my parents claim my first word was “airplane”…no BS) and I just happen to also be a black male. The Tuskegee Airmen were my heroes growing up and helped inspire me to become a pilot. So seeing just a bit of their story on the big screen was a very welcome sight to see. While you have a few valid points concerning some of the dialogue and realism of the actors portraying pilots flying under the harsh stresses of G’s, you’ve completely missed the point of the movie…maybe because it wasn’t realistic enough for you…maybe you would’ve perferred no CGI…or whatever.

    George Lucas and the director have stated numerous time in interviews that their main goal for the movie was to inspire young kids, especially young black kids that they could achieve great things in their life like the Tuskegee Airmen:

    And for someone who grew up being pretty much “the token black guy” when it came to things concerning aviation, I hope this movie works to do just that. The aviation community has all but failed in making an effort to attract minorities into the aviation community. I’ve heard ton’s of men advocating getting more women into aviation…there’s tons of groups out there now…Women in Aviation..The 99’s…IWAI..WICA..etc but pretty much no groups are advocating increasing the minority population in the aviation community.

    During several interviews Lucas described the movie as a family popcorn movie about heroes, not victims, that would have the look of a movie made in the 40’s ala “Flying Leathernecks” . That’s exactly what we got. Would it have nice to see real ME-109s, ME-262s, B-17s, P-51s and P-40s mix it up on the big screen? Of course it would have, but the warbird community has to take some of the blame too, Lucas has been trying to get this movie made for over two decades, You would think that every warbird owner this side of the Atlantic would have been begging to be part of the first US WWII aerial combat film made since Memphis Belle (Pearl Harbor doesn’t count)…but nope, if I remember correctly the only real warbirds made available for the movie were 4 or 5 P-51s, 2 P-40s, 1 B-17 and a C-47.
    Concerning the actors, Will Smith and Denzel Washington can’t be in every single movie that needs a black male lead. It was personally comforting to see young black men playing movie roles that did not include selling drugs, cheating on their women, going to jail or other stereo-typical roles Hollywood seems obsessed with them playing. I hate to say most white men just don’t get it…but unfortunately it’s the truth.

    If this movie inspires just a few kids to want to learn more about the Tuskegee Airmen, WWII or aviation in general then it has succeeded.

    • Hi, Desmond:

      I really appreciate your well-reasoned comment and the fact that you took the time to post in long form here. I think we both come to the topic as people who are acutely aware of the under-representation of black people in aviation.

      You might be aware of my own documentary film project, “Acro Camp.” I bent over backward to try to get a single black applicant for the cast and had no luck. For the second film, I even reached out to OBAP and had friends reach out to Barrington Irving’s organization with no success. Although the films will still be good, any black kid seeing the film will be without any person of color with which to identify. That’s disappointing. I know that there must be great black pilots who’d love to fly upside down in a documentary. But I think it’s just a matter of there being so few that the numbers were against us and we didn’t connect with any of them.

      So we’re in tune on that point. (And, by the way, if we shoot a third Acro Camp, can I reach out to you to help get some really good black applicants into the cast applicant pool?)

      On to Red Tails: I do think that there’s a fair amount of Kool-Aid involved in much of the commentary surrounding the film. Why is it okay to give audiences a less realistic film? Even if the intent was supposedly to be stilted and cute 1940s-style rendition? Why would we do that? Especially when a realistic portrayal would have been even better? And no harder or expensive to pull off?

      People are praising every aspect of the film, even the elements that any objective observer would regard as abysmal. There’s a pretty substantial population of people who stood spring-loaded to love the movie no matter what was wrong with it, simply because it portrayed the Tuskegee Airmen. That’s Kool-Aid and I stand by that characterization.

      I think that the producers blew a chance to really portray their achievements accurately and in a way that would be both a good family popcorn movie and a realistic portrayal of what it was like to fly Jugs and Mustangs in combat.

      By the way, I don’t object to the CGI furball scenes. Leaving aside the inaccuracy of the Me 262 tactics, I thought that the CGI furball scenes were by far the best part of the movie. Perhaps they helped to make more obvious the inaccuracy of the in-cockpit scenes.

      Another side note: I’m completely with you on your comments about Pearl Harbor and Memphis Belle. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

      Here’s the thing. I still can’t get over Glory. For no real additional money, time, or effort, they could have done for the Tuskegee Airmen what Glory did for the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Instead, we got a much inferior product.

      Looking back, I think that I can say that the appeal of Red Tails will not be lost on kids. I took my own test subject to the movie (my son, FOD, who’s 10 and can’t wait to put on a CAP cadet uniform). He loved it. We’ll end up with inspired kids no matter what happens. But we don’t have a movie that those same kids can watch while they’re well into their flight training without cringing over how fake it all looks.

      I wasn’t making fun of people with the Kool-Aid comment. I was needling, chiding, admonishing, or whatever other synonym works best. There’s no fun or laughing to be had. The majority of the audience for this film seems willing to settle for what it got. To gleefully settle, in fact. To suggest that Kool-Aid is involved in gleefully settling for less than what a historical legacy deserves is perhaps the most polite thing that one can say about the reaction.

      I respect the Tuskegee Airmen and their legacy. It was that respect that let me to believe that producers like George Lucas would share that respect and wouldn’t make a movie about the Tuskegees unless they intended to do it right. That’s why I’ve reacted to the film as I have – and why I’ve reacted to the “gleeful settling” as I have.

      Lastly: The actors. I was also pretty happy that the cast wasn’t made up of entirely the usual black male leads. Frankly, for this kind of project, I would have been really happy with an entire cast of unknowns. Tell the story with people that not everyone has already seen and typecast? Yeah! You bet! And there’s more than enough talent out there to fill out a cast like this. But, sadly, I think the script was so bad that none of the talent had a chance to actually act in anything more than caricature. I’d love to have seen a few black actors use this film as their breakout performances. Like Denzel did in Glory. (Okay, I’ll shut up about Glory. But what a powerful film!) And you’re absolutely right about the importance of these kinds of roles. But the script and the film didn’t really do anything for any of them. In fact, I think the script took Cuba down a notch (if it’s even possible to do that).

      Thanks again for posting here. Well-stated! I think we agree about most of the important stuff in life. We just disagree about the standards by which the film should be judged.

    • John Bucko says:

      Great comment hitting all the points.. However, one wonders if the pilot dialogue was much different from white pilots as most back men of that era who had education at all were taught to speak good English, unlike the ebonics of today. Perhaps this movie was dialogued down to appeal to black male viewers who would not relate to black men acting ‘white’. Even in the 60′s, my Air Force pilot dad flew with black pilots who could only only barely be audibly discerned from white pilots at parties and gatherings.

  14. Not a critique of your blog, I feel the exact same way. It would be difficult for any pilot with any historical knowledge not to wince at this production. But they were P-40′s, not “Jugs” (P-47). No big deal!

    • Doh! Really? Though they were P-47s. I’ll certainly cop to the error if I got it wrong. (And you can always be critical here! Especially if you have accurate info and want to share it!)


  15. If you want to see the real Top Gun, you need to get a copy of Speed and Angels. Apart from a few “sped up” sequences, the F14 flying is all real, and the pilot’s stories are inspiring.

    • I met Jay “Face Shot” Consalvi at ICAS 2010. I did the fanboy thing and had him sign my DVD copy. It’s a GREAT documentary. Love, love, loved it.

      I had high hopes for the American Fighter Pilot series. But it was eaten internally by all of the MTV jump-cutting. Yucko. And I suspect that at least some of the drama was a little manufactured. Still worth watching because it’s real. Just not as good as Speed and Angels.

      I’ve been known to use the Speed and Angels cadence when entering the practice area to fly acro. Tune 122.75 and lean into the mic. “Pontiac practice area, Decathlon Two-Papa-Alpha over the sand pits between four thousand and six thousand, aerobatics. Speed and angels! Fight’s on!” I’m so full of crap! But so are a lot of my friends and I’m good with that.

      • Cool seeing Jay in person, although he must be sick of the fame perhaps? I love the movie, never never never give up is a great message (echoing Winston Churchill too) and the fact girls can do anything, which I tell my daughters all the time. I’ll show them the movie when they can get the message and can apply it.

        I’ve never been one to lean into the mic and do the “speed and angels” thing. Just a quick call, HASELL check and off we go. Hey, maybe we could do a “Speed and Angels on the Left, Speed and Angels on the RIght……fights on.” Although our Yak 52 is U/S at the moment :-( grrrr.

        I did think that if I need to form a company again for anything I may call it “pipper down”. A term that was heard a lot in those funny outtakes at the end of the movie.

        Cheers now,

  16. As a pilot and long time fan of the real story of the Tuskegee Airmen I completely agree with your review! Why Hollywood needs to distort a wonderful true story I will never understand. There would be no need to suspend disbelief as the accurate history of these pilots is more than enough!

  17. I feared it would be bad just by the previews. The on the ground dialogue I didn’t feel was accurate for the time period, and I got that from the 30 second preview. I guess Lucas is used to making films where he can just make stuff up. It seems Hollywood always get two types of movies wrong: racing and flying.

    There needs to be a film made about Robin Olds. It would satify Hollywood in every regard. Love, hate, war, breakups, history, death, life the whole gamut.

    • I am a pilot, and saw Redtails last night. I was embarrassed for Cuba Gooding as he jammed his pipe in his mouth in almost every scene where he appeared. I am sure he felt the same way, and HE even looked uncomfortable. He accepted the direction of Hemmingway and hoped for the best. It didn’t happen. I have enjoyed his performences in the past, and hoped for the best. It was a letdown.
      Terrence Howard, was great!

      I almost wanted to scream at the inaccuracies I saw, and hoped this film would be exciting. I was born in 1940, and the WW II pilots of the P-40s, P-47s and P-51s were, and still are my heroes. I hoped that this film would honer them. But it was more like a cartoon characture. By the way, I was a CAP Cadet in high School, and it was one of the highlights of that part of my life.

  18. I have not yet seen this movie, as going to the movies is just not something my wife and I do. I will look forward to it when it is released on DVD, however.

    Steve, I appreciate your review, and the fact that you are able to knock the way the movie was made, while preserving the respect that the Tuskeegee Airmen deserve. And speaking of the Tuskeegee Airmen, one of the guys in my EAA chapter (690) is a professional photographer ( who is trying to document the remaining Tuskeegee Airmen before they’re gone. If you know of contact info for any of them, please contact him (or me, and I’ll pass it on).

    I am a white male, but my grandchildren are as much black as they are white, and I hope that this movie inspires them. They had their first Young Eagles ride last month, and will be flying again at next week’s event. Asia, the 9 year old, while still climbing out of the Warrior they flew in, exclaimed, “Next time I want to fly in the yellow plane!” pointing at the award-winning Aeronca Champ that was taxiing by, piloted by another of our members with another YE. Her 11 year old brother, Marty, was just as happy in front of MS Flight Simulator and the R/C Airplane Simulator as he was in a plane. I’m not sure if that’s because he was in control rather than in the back seat, or if it is because it is a “video game” (since he has a PSP attached to his hands most of the time).

    I’m not yet a pilot, myself, but I hope one day to be, but even more importantly, is that if these children decide that when they get old enough to start flying, I will make sure that they have that opportunity. I would love to be a Sport Pilot Instructor by then, and be able to teach them myself, or even take part in teaching them, but even if I am not, I want them to be able to fly, should that be their dreams. I had already showed them advertisements for the movie well before it was out, and hope that even though it isn’t what we would all like to see in a movie on this subject, that it will be one more thing that will help to inspire them.

    Thanks, again, Steve.

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