7 April 2004 | hlcepeda
So Much Talent. So Much Wasted.
Consider this scenario: The powers-that-be (ostensibly with every good intention), having offered a select group of talented African-Americans the vehicle by which they could prove themselves, then proceed to undermine the laudable efforts of those very same African-Americans. What I have described is one of the major underpinnings of The Tuskegee Airmen.
Sadly, I have also described what occurred in said film's creation and production process.
Thwarted and hobbled by truncated events, a rather thin, basic script, embarrassingly cartoonish air combat dialogue, pedestrian direction, dicey editing, some poor continuity, and a woefully anemic budget, this HBO attempt never reaches the lofty heights that it otherwise could have attained, never realizes what should have been - and what history deserved. The acting notwithstanding, the end result of this unpolished affair amounted to nothing more than an errand list being checked off; such was the quality of the production value. Apart from the "live" air-to-air action, the battle scenes are populated by enough unrestored and colorized WWII stock footage to have temporarily drained the National Archives. Adding further insult, the production elves carelessly managed to drop in approximately five seconds of Vietnam carpet-bombing footage; no excuse here could ever suffice.
Only the impassioned performances of key cast members truly propel this film - at least getting it off the sticky tarmac, but not far enough to fully complete its mission. Noteworthy, though, is Laurence Fishburne as the crazy-for-flying Hannibel Lee Jr., Christopher McDonald as the racist major, dubiously named Sherman Joy, Courtney B. Vance as the pragmatic Lt. Jeffrey Glenn, and - most noteworthy of all - Andre Braugher as Lt. Col. Benjamin O. Davis. I dare anyone to ignore Mr. Braugher when he is running at full-throttle. He is, arguably, this country's best actor, and it is impossible to take your eyes off of him. What a waste of talent!
This tragic squandering is compounded by the fact that a feature drama - anything other than a documentary - was 50 years in coming; now that it has been made, its very existence may defer a proper telling for a long time to come. The significance and gravity of the subject matter deserved a rousing, blockbuster treatment - which broaches this question: why would an unmitigated disaster (both historically and in film content) such as 2001's Pearl Harbor warrant such a great influx of attention and funding, while a story of victory on all levels be denied so much? Anyone interested in answers should look to Hollywood, the almighty marketing and demographics gods, and maybe the other Maj. Joys still out there.
My personal peccadillos aside, in first approaching The Tuskegee Airmen, I feared my penchant for military aviation and historical fairness would pervert my (hopefully) objective critique and unduly merit this HBO effort. On both points, my fears were far off-target. Performances? Within effective range! A good hit! 9 out of 10. Production? A dud! Call out the bomb squad! 3 out of 10. Overall Rating: 6.0