The inspiring story of the Tuskegee Airmen is one that should have been told long before now. The only major treatment it has received was an HBO movie in 1995 called “The Tuskegee Airmen,” that was until George Lucas, the creator of the “Star Wars” series, decided to take it up as a personal cause.
He has been an advocate for this project for more than 20 years and, in the end, he had to become the major financier, also, investing more than $80 million into the making and marketing of the film after all the major studios turned him down. But there is nothing as sweet as victory, and even though this movie came in second in its opening weekend, it far exceeded box office earning predictions, making it a winner.
As a World War II action picture, the film could stand on its own. The aerial dogfights are breathtaking. With special effects added in to create more realism, some of the stunts would not have been possible without today’s CG technology. Any problems the film has take place on the ground with thin character development and hackneyed storylines, one in particular about a “Stalag 17”-style escape.
This is the kind of war movie where everyone has a nickname, but their back stories feel shorted in the script by John Ridley and Aaron McGruder, which only drops an occasional hint about where a character is from or what they did before they joined the Airmen, choosing instead to focus on the action in the air. For instance, one character clearly has a drinking problem, but it’s never established why.
Director Anthony Hemingway is known for his television work in “The Wire” and “Treme,” and this is his first feature film. Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. head a great cast as commanders of the 99th Fighter Squadron of the Army Air Corps, which was entirely African-American. In opening scenes, we learn that this is really a grand experiment that Army officials do not expect to work. But Howard’s character, Col. A.J. Bullard, makes a passionate plea for the chance and the Airmen are given an important mission in which to prove themselves. The successful outcome earns them deserved recognition and even more combat missions.
Back on the base in Italy, Major Stance (Gooding Jr.) is the avuncular, pipe-smoking leader who inspires the pilots led by Marty “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker). The hot shot of the squadron is Joe “Lightning” Little (David Oyelowo), a cocky risk taker who the others look up to. Another standout in the story is Tristan Wilde as Ray “Junior” Gannon, and even Ne-Yo, known mostly for his vocal abilities, gets in on the action as “Smoky,” one of the pilots who serenades the squadron on his beat-up guitar.
As the film establishes, the Tuskegee Airmen went on to distinguish themselves ably by downing more than 100 German aircraft, all while suffering racial prejudice from their white counterparts in uniform and at great personal sacrifice. These filmmakers have done great service to this mostly forgotten part of American history. It’s a compelling and rousing war film even without the historical aspect.
“The Descendants” finally makes it to Beaumont this weekend. The film, written and directed by Alexander Payne, received an armful of Oscar nominations recently, notably George Clooney for Best Actor and Payne for director and screenplay. With only a few weeks to go, a frontrunner in the “Best Picture” category has been slow to emerge, but this