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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Red Tails

By
Kurt Jensen
Source: Catholic News Service

The last time audiences watched flag-waving hokum on the order of "Red Tails" (Fox), the show may have included a cartoon and a newsreel, and war bonds may have been for sale in the lobby. Patriotic corn, it seems, is not a staple that ages especially well.

During World War II, combat-themed films were relentlessly upbeat because the federal government, as well as the Production Code Administration, decreed such optimism to be in the interest of home-front morale.

But what director Anthony Hemingway and screenwriters John Ridley and Aaron McGruder obviously intended as an enthusiastic fact-based homage to that type of motion picture instead comes off as shallow and cliched storytelling about a famed group of Tuskegee Airmen.

As their film opens in 1944, the 332nd Fighter Group of the Army Air Forces—made up of African-American pilots based in Italy—are shown banished to rear-guard missions such as strafing a German supply train and making coastal patrols with second-hand P-40 Warhawks.

These fliers yearn to get into the scrap. But they face racism, not only from the distant Pentagon—where Col. A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard) fights the good fight on behalf of his subordinates—but from their nearby white counterparts.

They're finally awarded the use of the P-51 Mustang—a muscular plane suitable for bomber escorts and nimble enough to outmaneuver the first German jets. This being the time before stealth aircraft, the Mustangs' noses and tails are painted bright red. Those at the controls clearly intend to be seen and remembered.

The history lesson is easy enough to convey if the filmmakers would only focus on the task at hand. Instead, they prefer to have their flyboys cracking wise with such remarks as "How you like that, Mr. Hitler?" and aphorisms like "Experience is a cruel teacher. You get the exam first, then the lesson."

The aviators are shown to be practicing Christians, particularly David "Deke" (short for Deacon) Watkins, played by Marcus T. Paulk. Deke's cockpit carries an icon of a black Jesus, and he leads his comrades in prayer before takeoff.

Tristan Wilds as Ray "Junior" Gannon finds romance with Sofia (Daniela Ruah), an Italian girl, and Cuba Gooding Jr. as Maj. Emmanuel Stance grunts a lot and never takes his pipe out of his mouth. On the up side, despite their predictable outcomes, the extended dogfight sequences are everything you'd expect from the greatest generation.

The film contains extensive aerial combat violence, an instance of implied premarital sex as well as fleeting crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
Kurt Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



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Bernard of Clairvaux: Man of the century! Woman of the century! You see such terms applied to so many today—“golfer of the century,” “composer of the century,” “right tackle of the century”—that the line no longer has any punch. But Western Europe's “man of the twelfth century,” without doubt or controversy, has to be Bernard of Clairvaux. Adviser of popes, preacher of the Second Crusade, defender of the faith, healer of a schism, reformer of a monastic Order, Scripture scholar, theologian and eloquent preacher: any one of these titles would distinguish an ordinary man. Yet Bernard was all of these—and he still retained a burning desire to return to the hidden monastic life of his younger days. 
<p>In the year 1111, at the age of 20, Bernard left his home to join the monastic community of Citeaux. His five brothers, two uncles and some 30 young friends followed him into the monastery. Within four years a dying community had recovered enough vitality to establish a new house in the nearby valley of Wormwoods, with Bernard as abbot. The zealous young man was quite demanding, though more on himself than others. A slight breakdown of health taught him to be more patient and understanding. The valley was soon renamed Clairvaux, the valley of light. </p><p>His ability as arbitrator and counselor became widely known. More and more he was lured away from the monastery to settle long-standing disputes. On several of these occasions he apparently stepped on some sensitive toes in Rome. Bernard was completely dedicated to the primacy of the Roman See. But to a letter of warning from Rome, he replied that the good fathers in Rome had enough to do to keep the Church in one piece. If any matters arose that warranted their interest, he would be the first to let them know. </p><p>Shortly thereafter it was Bernard who intervened in a full-blown schism and settled it in favor of the Roman pontiff against the antipope. </p><p>The Holy See prevailed on Bernard to preach the Second Crusade throughout Europe. His eloquence was so overwhelming that a great army was assembled and the success of the crusade seemed assured. The ideals of the men and their leaders, however, were not those of Abbot Bernard, and the project ended as a complete military and moral disaster. </p><p>Bernard felt responsible in some way for the degenerative effects of the crusade. This heavy burden possibly hastened his death, which came August 20, 1153.</p> American Catholic Blog One of the things that we need to remember is that we’re preaching Jesus, not the institutional Church. It’s easy to get caught up in the rules and regulations of the institution and forget that we are saved not by the Church but by the person of Jesus or the Church as the body of Christ.

 
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