Devotion Review: A Respectful War Epic That Flies High On Its True Story Elements [TIFF]


Directed by J.D. Dillard from a screenplay by Jake Crane and Jonathan Stewart, Devotion is based on actual events during the Korean War. Heartbreaking and sincere, the film dives head-first into the lives of U.S. Navy fighter pilots Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner, as well as their very attractive wingmen in the throes of danger. Based on the book Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice by Adam Makos, Devotion is a harrowing journey into stories that have remained untold by the men who continue to fight for equality. It’s a war epic that walks the line of racial segregation, bravery, and the cost of defending one’s country.

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Set against the backdrop of the Korean War, Devotion focuses on the U.S. Navy’s first Black aviator, Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors). He is a well-trained and skilled fighter pilot who never gets the credit he deserves from the media due in large part to the color of his skin. Jesse’s peers in flight are no better than the squadron leaders, as Jesse continuously battles with prejudice in the newly desegregated Navy. Lieutenant Tom Hudner (Glen Powell) enters the scene by joining up with Jesse’s team of aviators, with both men admiring one another’s abilities in the air and commitment to achieving all the goals of their future missions.

As the only Black man in a sea of white faces, Jesse must constantly prove himself capable of carrying out the role he has dedicated himself to in the sky. During a side trip to the French Riviera in an odd sequence that probably didn’t belong in this film, Jesse comes across Elizabeth Taylor (Serinda Swan), who invites the boys to a casino for some fun. However, Jesse faces racism again as Tom attempts to defend his brother-in-arms against a team of Marines. It’s instances like this throughout the movie that reflect Jesse’s determination to just be taken seriously.

A pointed scene where Jesse talks to himself in the mirror becomes a twisted form of daily affirmations that go astray. He hurls stereotypical racial rhetoric at himself, spouting out all the hate speech he has heard his entire life as a way to build up confidence for impending test missions. It works. The danger becomes a genuine reality when the squadron gets to the Korean peninsula. Jesse, Tom, and their fellow fighter pilots fly a combat mission that results in Jesse’s aircraft coming under fire. The true story behind Devotion comes into full frame as Tom learns what it takes to be a real wingman in the face of uncertainty.

Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell in Devotion

Borrowing elements from Ensign Jesse Brown and Lieutenant Tom Hudner’s life experiences, Devotion takes viewers to the skies in an epic war story for the ages. Respectful to the real-life segments of the Korean War, J.D. Dillard is careful to paint a picture of racial segregation at a time when the rage of hatred is outweighed by the ultimate task at hand. An ensemble cast that includes Joe Jonas, Thomas Sadoski, Daren Kagasoff, Nick Hargrove, and Spencer Neville help to elevate the valor and courage of the airmen forgotten by history.

With his role as astronaut John Glenn in Hidden Figures, his portrayal of Hangman in Top Gun: Maverick, and now his embodiment of Tom Hudner, Glen Powell seems to have a penchant for playing airmen. Suave and cocky, Powell’s take on Tom is well acted and feverishly entertaining. Dillard’s direction is at the peak of his career, in the first blockbuster movie on his resume that begs to be seen in IMAX. But it’s Jonathan Majors who stands out in Devotion. His painstaking attention to detailing Jesse’s life and love for his wife Daisy (Christina Jackson) is felt in every layer of his performance. A combination of vitriol and poetic love are traits at the heart of everything Majors does in this film.

As the unpredictability of war and geopolitical tactics zoom into central focus, Devotion excels when the truth comes out. With a heart-pounding score from composer Chanda Dancy, the movie transitions into a tense plot that carries the film forward, despite its semi-long runtime and glossy exterior. Stylized and cultured, Devotion soars when least expected and is brought to life by its talented ensemble cast.

Devotion had its premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival on September 12. The film will be released in theaters on November 23. It is 138 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for strong language, some war action/violence, and smoking.

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