Devotion Review – IGN
Devotion hits theaters on Nov.
23, 2022. War dramas based on true stories are often the easiest, and most accessible, way to introduce audiences to their own history and heroes. Telling those stories, however, can get thorny when that hero is a Black U.S. serviceman, as doing his journey justice inevitably means wrestling with challenges beyond those inherent to wartime.
And those obstacles often represent pieces of U.S. history many prefer to ignore, even if doing that erases the contributions of talented and courageous people. But when done right, it's the kind of story that can be a transformative experience. Director J.D.
Dillard's Devotion, centering on Ensign Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors), the first Black pilot to earn his wings in the U.S. Navy's basic flight training program, is exactly that kind of movie. It focuses on Brown's unlikely friendship with fellow naval aviator Lt.
Tom Hudner (Glen Powell) in the early days of a war that put both their training and personal relationship to the test. For many moviegoers, the Top Gun duology shapes how we relate to fighter pilot stories. This true story about elite aviators offers a unique opportunity to replace that colorful fiction with compelling realness.
After all, not all heroes wear capes; some flew Vought F4U-4 Corsairs into North Korean airspace to save lives.
Based on the book of the same name, Devotion opens with Hudner, the last member of VF-32 squadron, arriving on base. He enters the squad's locker room just in time to catch the tail end of Brown shouting viciously at himself in the adjoining bath area. It's a striking, if seemingly bizarre, introduction to the man, one that lays the groundwork for Majors' deeply affecting performance as he epitomizes Brown's vulnerabilities and unsettling coping mechanisms.
Rather than follow Brown as he works to qualify as a fighter pilot, the story drops into events just prior to the attack that triggers war between North and South Korea. It's a smart decision that makes way for a wartime story focused on the bonds between men. Shortly after meeting Brown, the other squad members appear.
They're a jovial bunch quick to offer Hudner a warm welcome - so on the surface, it's Brown's reserved attitude that's most notable, not the fact that he's the only Black squadron member. It's confronting the why behind his standoffishness that'll kick you in the gut. Dillard incorporates the standard elements of a wartime movie aptly, levering his ensemble for its dry wit and tacit commitment to one another to counterbalance the heaviness of looming danger.
Devotion doesn't lack for action but the characters aren't just a vehicle to chronicle the anxiety-inducing intensity and epicness of battle. Dillard rightly keeps the lens trained on Majors as he navigates precarious circumstances as the sole Black pilot in the Navy. With a restrained power, Majors masterfully conveys that Brown doesn't trust easily.
Although confident in his skills, he openly tests his squadmates' mettle. He rejects any attempt to "stand up" for him when others disrespect or threaten him. Brown doesn't want or need a savior, but he'd welcome a friend he can trust to have his back.
If Top Gun: Maverick served up a welcome reminder of what you love about aviation movies, then Dillard's Korean war film marries those propulsive aerial sequences and cockpit point-of-view to a compelling true story certain to change how you think about a pilot and his wingman. Thankfully, the script balances its character study with sharply pointed action and thoughtful story progression in and out of the air. Glen Powell's Tom Hudner, meanwhile, isn't an audience proxy for "discovering" the realities of racism.
It's 1950. While loss of life may have forced the U.S. military to move away from the overt segregation and disenfranchisement of Black servicemembers, it doesn't mean their presence was readily accepted. Anti-Blackness and prejudice are everyday facts of life, and Powell portrays Hudner with a steadfastness and the convincing naivete of the privileged.
Learning about what motivated him to join the Navy carves out his role in the squad with a relatable clarity. This is just as much his story as Brown's because Hudner's inability to understand why his squadmate hesitates to put his faith in him adds valuable perspective as their relationship progresses. Breaking barriers and shifting perspectives was (and still is) an inescapable by-product of Black people striving to live full lives in oppressive circumstances.
It can become a cage all its own. With this in mind, Devotion's about more than recounting the relationship between Brown and his white wingman Hudner. It's clear Hudner and Brown are both ace pilots.
So, watching the squadron's first milestone - qualifying for carrier landings - is even more gripping when it becomes clear something other than skill and mastery of his airplane keeps hindering Brown's performance. And when you do eventually learn what's tripping him up, you, like Hudner, won't be able to wiggle away from the stark truth that is the Black experience in a world designed to exclude Black people.Dillard blatantly rejects the laziness of relying on physical violence to expose the harm that can come to Brown as a result of racism.
" Dillard's story direction persistently layers in antagonistic encounters to highlight the prejudice Brown constantly faces.
An anonymous noise complaint that brings the police to his family's door. Being forced to pose for pictures and expected to parrot PR-ready quotes about his race for journalists. Swallowing racist disrespect from a Marine on ship.
Each incident establishes reasons for Brown's trust issues. Dillard blatantly rejects the laziness of relying on physical violence to expose the harm that can come to Brown as a result of racism. The impact is even greater as Dillard is careful to work in moments of respect, joy, and camaraderie to provide balance.
This isn't a story intended to paint everyone as a seething racist, just like it's not one that ignores the fact that Brown succeeds despite a racist system functioning as designed. Hudner and the other members of the squadron don't actively alienate Brown. They just fail to consider the impact that something seemingly insignificant to them would likely be devastating for Brown.
It's risky to choose subtly and normalcy over the more sensationalized version of discrimination. The pervasiveness and banality of anti-Blackness makes people uncomfortable. Shying away from the expected more physically violent angle in order to leave space for the work this squadron puts in to grow as a unit gives the story its real impact.
Because this is, again, just as much Hudner's story as it is Brown's. The first half of the film reveals Brown's love of flying and family. Unlike his single compatriots, he's a devoted husband and father.
His wife, Daisy (brought to life with a delightful warmth and humor by Christina Jackson), is both his anchor and safe harbor. Powell's confident and charismatic Hudner acts as a perfect foil to Majors' stoic intensity and restrained vulnerability. Hudner bucked family expectations to join the military.
He's a true believer, committed to service. Each pilot finds common ground even as they struggle to see eye to eye. Dillard's direction errs on the side of "show" rather than "tell," bolstering the unspoken with strategic conversations between characters at pivotal moments over heavy-handed data dumps.
The end result is a movie that offers its lessons on friendship and microaggressions without falling out of its storytelling pocket. The Top 10 World War II Movies
By the time the combat portion of Devotion kicks off, it's impossible not to be fully invested in this team. The aerial sequences, for all their spectacularness, carry more than a hint of grounded authenticity.
Even through the action choreography, each member of this small ensemble performs to make the whole greater than its parts. So when the third act takes a somber turn, the macro elements of warfare and engaging the enemy ring true. There aren't many modern stories built around the Korean war; even fewer that put the racial dynamics front and center from a Black person's perspective.
It may seem counterintuitive, but refusing to flinch from the subject actually makes space for the story of a friendship between two men of different races without it devolving into a shallow savior narrative that does a disservice to its subjects.
Devotion is a story about friendship, commitment, and the kind of honest connection that leaves no one behind.
It's jam-packed full of painful twists and turns, exciting action, and the kind of hopefulness that never goes out of style.