Directed by J.D. Dillard
Adapted from the 2015 biography written by Adam Makos, “Devotion” tells the story of heroic Navy airmen Jesse Brown (Jonathan Major) and Tom Hudner (Glen Powell). The military men had different backgrounds, but ended up side by side when the U.S. entered the “Forgotten War” in Korea and were called upon to provide air support for troops on the ground. Life seemed easy enough for Lieutenant Hudner, coming from an upper-class New England family and graduating from the Naval Academy. With no wife or kids, Hudner was still just trying to figure out life. Jesse Brown, son of an Alabama sharecropper, had a different story. He was told all his life he wouldn’t make it to where he was. He had more to fight against, as well as more to fight for—a wife (Christina Jackson) and young daughter back home.
I’m not usually the type to watch war movies with corny titles like “Devotion,” but this one wasn’t as overly sentimental as I expected. It has just the right amount. I commend the movie for its honorable decision to focus more on Jesse Brown, the first Black pilot to pass the U.S. Navy basic flight training program, instead of on Medal of Honor recipient Tom Hudner. Jonathan Majors always puts in his all, and he makes this movie soar to heights it couldn’t have achieved without him. An Oscar nomination wasn’t out of the question, if enough voters saw this movie. Alas, it never came. Majors is able to conjure a tear out of thin air, and he lends just the right amount of seriousness to a movie that’s always this close to crumbling under its own weightiness. Majors is poised to have a major year in 2023, with two movies coming out in the next few weeks—“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and “Creed III”–and a buzzworthy Sundance movie, “Magazine Dreams,” that was just purchased by Searchlight. Glen Powell already had a crash course in aviation, having finished filming “Top Gun: Maverick” not long before production started. Having that experience under his belt was like having his own pair of aviator wings pinned to his chest. That’s the film equivalent of having gone to the Naval Academy, I guess. Powell looks comfortable, but his character lacks a personality. We know Powell has one, based on his role in “Maverick.” Maybe his character was famously quiet? I like Thomas Sadoski, who plays commander Dick Cevoli, but he can only hope to be half as convincing—maybe—as Tom Cruise was in the similar role a few months earlier. Sure, it’s unfair to compare any aviating movie to the highly successful “Top Gun” sequel, but them’s the breaks. And then there’s Joe Jonas, the latest pop singer to try his hand at acting. Sure, Jonas was in a couple “Camp Rock” movies a dozen years ago, but this is his first big-screen role that wasn’t animated. This isn’t the breakout role that he may have hoped for, but it’s not entirely his fault—he’s exclusively given comedic relief lines that aren’t that funny.
Director J.D. Dillard’s dad was the only Black airman in his squadron, and served as an advisor on the film. That must have been helped Dillard (not to mention Jonathan Majors) grasp the gravity of Jesse Brown’s story. And practical effects as well as computer effects helped make that story come to life. Kevin LaRosa, a pilot who has helped make movie aviating look more realistic for years (including with his work on “Top Gun: Maverick”) helped lend some credence to the flight scenes in “Devotion.” The actors even got to work with genuine aircrafts from that era. “Devotion” looks good, but it’s still missing a spark. The story, based on Brown and Hudner’s real experiences, never feels as exciting as it should have. In the end, “Devotion” was worth the two-hour commitment…but I can’t say it blew me away.