2022 has seen the release of 2 films featuring naval aviators – 1 being 36 years in the making, coming back with a statement that the movie going experience is alive and well after a harsh 2 years and the other is a historical biopic based on heroism and devotion to himself, his wingmen, his family, and his country. Respectfully, those two films are Top Gun: Maverick and Devotion. Both films having a significant impact during their releases. Of course, with the success that Maverick boasted, the two happen to be in theaters concurrently – setting up the perfect doubly feature for those who dream of flying.
The two films share multiple connections with one another. Beyond featuring Naval aviators as their main characters, the two films also share the star actor. Appearing in both in a supporting role, but a major one at that is Glen Powell. In Maverick he’s this generations Iceman, the hotshot pilot with an ego bigger than the aircraft carrier his fighter takes off from. In Devotion, Powell plays a more subdued, charming, respectful, and humble aviator, the real-life Lieutenant Tom Hudner.
Devotion begins with Hudner being transferred to his new unit in which he meets his future wingman Ensign Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors), the only African American aviator the Navy currently employs. Both men are the best pilots available to the Navy and quickly form an unbreakable bond with one another based on mutual trust and honesty as the two share quarters, personal experiences, and missions together after being thrust into the Korean War. Hudner quickly learns the difficulties Jesse endures as the only African American aviator on a daily basis. Taking it in from all sides including fellow soldiers as well as the press who chose to focus on the color of his skin rather the skill as a pilot or commitment to his country.
After being dragged into whats known as “The Forgotten War”, Jesse and Tom embark on a journey of humanity, finding strength within to stand up for one another beyond the generalities of a wingman’s purpose. The two men have each other’s backs without second guessing or ulterior motives. Jesse invites Tom into his home to meet his wife Daisy (Christina Jackson), trusting him with more than his life but his family’s. Something during this period is unthinkable between races.
In the words of the fictional Zoolander villain Jacobim Mugatu “Jonathan Majors is so hot right now, he’s everywhere.” Recent releases prove this to be true, before Devotion released, multiple upcoming films trailer’s feature Majors in blockbusting roles. Including Devotion, there’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Creed 3. All of which would play back-to-back-to-back. The more Jonathan Majors is in, the more his talent is put on display, proving his ability through his expressive features and non-verbal acting. Majors will be a force of nature for decades to come.
At the forefront is Majors and Powell who share the spotlight together effortlessly. Both actors performances lift the others up while adding nuances to their real-life counterparts. Based on the novel Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice by Adam Makos, director J. D. Dillard helms the film off a screenplay written by Jake Crane and Jonathan A. Stewart that celebrates heroism and bravery on more than one front. To be a naval aviator takes courage but to accomplish what Jesse Brown set out to do takes the meaning to another level.
Based on the screenplay, Jesse Brown is a larger-than-life personality, taking the hand that life gave him and proving everyone who doubted him wrong. during the halfway point of the film that lasts 139 minutes, Jesse recounts all of the times he was pushed, made a laughingstock and abused, verbally, physically and mentally. Each time, Jesse never gave in – showing the traits of true heroism in the face of adversity. Majors projects all of that and more through his version of a true American hero who’s sacrifice will be remembered for decades to come.
Instantly, im reminded of Men of Honor and Cuba Gooding Jr’s portrayal of master diver for the Navy Carl Brashear and what he endured and sacrificed to be in his position. Two men, in different branches of the military, both of whom share an astounding resilience to others discrimination. Jake Crane and Jonathan Stewart’s screenplay feature multiple layers to the definition of devotion. Devotion to oneself, family, friends and country. Tom Hudner learns the true meaning over the course of the Dillard film, being more than just a wingman in the sky. Glen Powell brings more emotional depth to Tom Hudner than he brought to Hangman.
Within the lengthy runtime Devotion boasts, the supporting cast that surround Powell and Majors get lost in the whirlwind in honoring the legacy and impact of Jesse Brown. Supporting characters are treated as secondary ones, left to the background, not given enough complexity to stand out among the co-stars. With the runtime as long as it is, Dillard loses grasp on the uneven pacing – there’s fat to be trimmed that would make for a more concentrated story.
Out of the supporting roles, it’s Christina Jackson who steps up the most in the few scenes she’s in. Daisy and Jesse are a force together on screen, Majors and Jackson have a sweet chemistry together anchoring their relationship, speaking to the character in Jesse to be a good man, starting at home. The rest of the pilots include Joe Jonas, Thomas Sadoski, Daren Kagasoff, Nick Hargrove, Joseph Cross, and Spencer Neville.
Unlike Maverick, Devotion’s strength is in the long-drawn-out melodrama of its toughest men. The action takes a long while to warm up and when it hits, the scenes are intense, gripping the viewer to the screen, anticipating something bad to ultimately happen but cheering on the men we have come to know. Dillard, in his 3rd feature film, handles it well, finding balance between the dog fighting and the moments of uncertainty.
A good war film will remind us that fighting a war is immoral and illogical. A great war film will inspire and heighten the human spirit through patriotism, bringing out pride in the heroes who selflessly risk their lives for their country. Despite the overwhelming odds set against him, Jess Brown became a hero and like the Chris Kyle’s and the Carl Brashear’s, he will be remembered for his devotion and bravery in the face of danger to serve his country and those closest to him.
Screenplay By: Jake Crane & Jonathan A. Stewart
Directed By: J. D. Dillard
Music By: Chanda Dancy
Cinematography: Erik Messerschmidt
Starring: Jonathan Majors, Glen Powell, Christina Jackson, Joe Jonas, Thomas Sadoski, Daren Kagasoff
Release Date: November 23, 2022
Running Time: 2 Hours 19 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%
Based On: Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice by Adam Makos