Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr., Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Mekhi Phifer, Allen Payne, Courtney B. Vance, Andre Braugher, Christopher McDonald, Daniel Hugh Kelly, John Lithgow
Written by: Paris Qualles, Trey Ellis, Ron Hutchinson, based on a story by Robert Williams, T.S. Cook
Directed by: Robert Markowitz
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong war violence
Running Time: 106
Date: 08/26/1995
IMDB

The Tuskegee Airmen (1995)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Blackbirds

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Produced for cable TV, The Tuskegee Airmen smacks of a low budget, cutting corners and skimming through history. The presence of a white director is also troublesome, perhaps revealing a kind of hesitance, or lack of trust, with the project. But nonetheless, director Robert Markowitz does the best he can with what he has, making excellent use of a strong cast, and using real war footage to help illustrate the flying and battle sequences (and save money on visual effects).

During World War II, Hannibal Lee (Laurence Fishburne) travels to Tuskegee, Alabama and meets other African-Americans, including Billy "A-Train" Roberts (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), and Leroy Cappy (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), all hoping to become pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps. The men demonstrate great skill, but are kept away from the front lines, instead assigned to bomb ground targets. Worse, a bigoted white senator (John Lithgow) wishes to shut the program down, citing "medical evidence" that African-Americans are not capable of being pilots. Fortunately, after success in North Africa, the squad is sent to Italy to become escorts for B-17 bombers, where they achieve a flawless record, as well as breaking open racial barriers.

The cast is the movie's best asset, with several different types filling in for what might have been, in a longer, deeper movie, strong characters. In just a few short scenes, actors like Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr., Courtney B. Vance, and Andre Braugher are able to fill in the blanks, suggesting deep desires and lives lived. The result is undeniably rousing, and ultimately moving. It's hard to deny the power of the true story and the effectiveness with which the movie tells it.

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