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DIRECTOR: Anthony Hemingway
CAST: Cuba Gooding Jr, Terrence Howard, Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Tristan Wilds, Ne-Yo, Elijah Kelley
CLASSIFICATION: 13 VP
RUNNING TIME:125 minutes
RATING: 2 stars (out of 5)
CLICHÉ-RIDDEN characters mar this story that was simply screaming out for a big screen treatment and so create an awkward film.
The characters may be fictional, but the epic source events are not and this may just have made a better TV series than a once-off feature.
Based on real events stemming out of the Tuskegee programme, the film is set in the Itallian countryside of 1944. It tells the story of the men who were selected to become the first African-American combat pilots in the American armed services.
Despite facing little institutional support and extreme discrimination, the men still patriotically fought with distinction, earning not only medals and awards for brave service, but also the fear of their enemies and respect of their allies.
Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr provide the anchor as Colonel Bullard (who spends more time fighting the Army in the Pentagon than the enemy on the frontlines) and Major Stance, who have to keep the guys together.
On the ground the clichéd characters – oh look, the group leader Easy (Parker) is an alcoholic with daddy issues but that’s okay, the heart of the pack is Lightning (Oyelowo) the guy who doesn’t follow orders but flies really well, and the youngest guy in the group Junior (Wilds) is sweet, if over-enthusiastic. And don’t forget Smokey (Ne-Yo) with his mouth full of baccy and unpronouncable words and then the chick from NCIS Las Vegas pitches up as an Italian love interest... and still we don’t care.
At one point Junior finds himself captured behind enemy lines, but he is the most laid-back prisoner of war ever, never scared or perturbed and none of his friends ever get worried or sad about his disappearance.
There is no sense of urgency (so pacing is a problem) or drama (despite this being a war, the most dramatic of circumstances ever) and the dialogue is banal.
The film is not a testament to civil rights though, but couched in the filmic vocabulary of an action film about a bygone era of planes created before jet fighters became the norm.
Unfortunately the dogfights and flight sequences are not exactly scary – there is a curious lack of intensity which means this film never even gets going – despite having Lucasfilm behind the computer screens and honest to goodness snarling, scarred Nazis clenching their jowls as they spit out German imprecations.
Making a documentary drawing on the testimony of the original Tuskegee participants may have been more stirring. The narrative that should be at the heart of this film is interesting and awe-inspiring, but instead the film-makers were so intent on being proper and accurate about it, they forgot to just stick to telling a story.
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