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Red Tails

7/10

Stars: Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr, Tristan Wilds, Elijah Kelley, Danilea Ruah, Bryan Cranston, Gerald McRaney, Lee Tergesen, CiarŠn McMenamin

Director: Anthony Hemingway

Peppered with aerial dogfights as vividly exciting as only modern technology can make them, this is an old-fashioned war film that could almost have been one of Hollywood's Technicolor flag-wavers from the early 1940s. What distinguishes it is the theme: the story of 332 Squadron, America's only all-black air force combat unit of World War 2.

At first denied a place on the front line, and confined to attacking trucks and trains from their Italian base, the pilots of the 332nd soon prove their worth when given the chance.

The characters themselves are clichéd but distinctive. The resolute, respected CO (Howard), the pipe-chewing senior officer (Gooding, channelling Kenneth More) and the pilots, led by Easy (Parker), swigging whisky to get through, and the daredevil, orders-defying Lightning (Brit actor Oyelowo), who falls for an Italian girl in one of the weaker parts of the film.

Familiar situations soon pile up: the stereotyped German ace, the PoW tunnel escape bid, dying pilots spiralling down to earth, a couple of whom are of course among the black flyers we've gradually got to know.

But the film remains throughout thrilling and watchable, especially up in the clouds, and there's a great scene on terra firma when the black pilots, at first excluded from white officers' clubs, are welcomed by their white counterparts, many of whose lives they have saved in the air. Logistically, the re-creation of the time is awesome.

David Quinlan

USA/Czech Republic 2012. UK Distributor: Momentum. Colour by efilm.
124 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 03 Jun 2012