Director: Anthony Hemingway
Starring: Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr and Terrence Howard
Set during World War 2 1944 in Italy, mainly in the skies, but on the ground whether destroyed, on the runway or in the board room remains just as important; concerns a group of African American pilots who even though very good, are underrated based solely on colour, take part in the Tuskegee experiment to see how good they fair, by giving them clean up jobs to shoot and destroy anything from the sky, down at anything with a Nazi symbol on it, whether it be train or trucks. The top officials in charge of this experiment however do not have enough confidence in them to be in battle with the rest of their white American army peers. That reluctantly changes when casualties of white pilots rise accompanied by a string of impressive jobs especially due to pilot ace Joe “Lightning” Little and squad leader Marty “Easy” Julian and effective arm twisting by Colonel A.J. Bullard, they get their chance to prove their worth and serve their country well.
The African American pilots more or less put up with being seen as less than equal to their white pilot fighter counterparts (even given poorer quality planes than them) who have the pleasure of being in combat. Nonetheless they take pride in doing their part for their country even if it is “clean up” work, such as firing on Nazi vehicles from the air. Especially Joe ‘Lightning’ Little (David Oyelowo) the rebellious, risk taking ladies man, yet equally patriotic as he is skilled, pilot and his best friend and squad leader Marty ‘Easy’ Julian (Nate Parker), despite a bit of showboating at times from the former and little too much drinking from the latter. After being convinced and given a chance, mostly due to the increasing amount of casualties and their good work, the Tuskegee men are given newer improved planes (to which they are painted red at the front and red at the back) and assignments to escort other planes to their destination / rendezvous point; a massive step up and as close to being in battle as any black pilot fighter can get. However as assignments get tougher and riskier, Lightning’s relationship with Sofia (Daniela Ruah) his beautiful Italian girlfriend intensifies and he now has more to lose, Marty’s drinking gets worse due to pressure and 1 or 2 mistakes being made by pilots in a job where there is no room for error; this is where everything heats up and planes start to fall quicker than the bullets they are firing and the ones coming at them.
Powerful characters such as Lightning, Marty, Colonel A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard) and subtle but effective characters such as Major Emanuelle Stance (Cuba Gooding Jr.), are all fantastic and believable in a film very dependent on individuals in not only a horrible time when the world is at war but also when racism is at its peak. The skilled pilots and main characters Lightning and Marty, even though patriotic are still flawed, where Marty drinks on the job and Lightning has a bad habit of disobeying orders and getting into fights that can be avoided. However these flaws are successful in making them identifiably human and likeable so therefore relatable. Major Stance and Col Bullard quietly but effectively keeps everything together, importantly their men like a great manager and his assistant manager of a successful football (soccer) team. Especially Col Bullard who behind closed doors fights for his men to get the respect they deserve from doubting white important army officials and through magnificent memorable speeches to his Tuskegee men, demands that they deserve that respect through good work. Major Stance also keeps the pilots grounded and motivated when Col Bullard isn’t around reminding them constantly why they are here and why they should stay. The rest of the black pilots are all likeable and it must be said, the doubting army officials were all brilliant and even though unlikeable they prove to be very important to this film. Sofia the love interest of Lightning is a nice gentle pause from all this fighting.
The writing by John Ridley and Aaron McGruder based on the book by John B. Holway; make sure the characters are fully defined and gives them the appropriate dialogue to work with, especially the speeches by Col Bullard. The story even though simple is a good example of effective storytelling where it’s easy to follow and its clear the writers never forgot what the story is about or more importantly since character based, who it is about.
This film covers two very important issues: (1) Racism and (2) World War 2. So without even trying the story would have been interesting enough. What it did not do, was to go the same route as many films dealing with either one of these issues. It never got into the “Poor me, poor me, I have to struggle for everything I have” route, nor did it go the “I hate war; it’s unjust and look what it did to me!” route. Instead it focused on individuals and leaders who want to win the war; which was what made it special and easy to identify with and what ultimately, makes it a brilliant watch. The only flaw would be the score of the film where its lack of creativity and imagination makes it forgettable in a piece that deserved more from its composer (Terence Blanchard). But that is just nit picking. If you are a fan of Action or War films to the extent where all you want to see is shooting and fighting as if this were a video game, then this is not for you. If you are fan of wanting to watch a film that’s honest, character based and leaves you thinking; then you have chosen the right movie. Also carry a loved one to watch this film with.