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Based on the true story of Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors), the first Black aviator in Navy history, and his fellow fighter pilot, Tom Hudner (Glen Powell), Devotion is the story of how the two men risked their lives during the Korean War to become the Navy’s most celebrated wingmen, developing a friendship in the process that overcame racism and the conflicts of war.
In addition to Majors (The Harder They Fall) and Powell (Top Gun: Maverick), singer Joe Jonas also has a small role in the film as a fellow pilot Marty Goode. He also contributes an original song.
In a year when the biggest movie was a blockbuster about fighter pilots (Top Gun: Maverick), the new film Devotion has received surprisingly little publicity or box office draw.
Yet Devotion is an important historical drama about two celebrated war pilots who actually existed, one of which was the Navy’s very first Black fighter pilot. It’s also about a powerful friendship that broke through its own barriers.
Jesse Brown became “a forgotten man from a forgotten war,” as CNN describes him. Yet he was more than just a war hero; he was the first person to break the color barrier in the Navy. “Brown went from steering a mule in a cotton field to steering seven-ton fighter planes onto aircraft carriers,” CNN reports. And while WWII’s Tuskegee Airmen are well known for breaking the race barrier in the Army, Brown broke the same barrier in the Navy – all by himself. Yet few have heard of him.
In the film, Brown is heralded as the group’s most talented, almost flawless pilot — until new plans for a new fighter plane are introduced to his group. It’s a challenge for Brown to fly it, but he’s hesitant to trust anyone to get any support, especially those that don’t share the same complexion. Hudner does not see his color but instead recognizes him as an accomplished pilot and his teammate.
As Brown and Hudner, Majors and Powell bring a convincing friendship and chemistry, and Majors projects his intensity and bravado during the film’s most dramatic moments. Powell brings warmth and charm to Hudner, who seeks out a friendship with Jesse from the very beginning, and stands up for his comrade when he is discriminated against by other servicemen.
Another stand-out is Daisy Brown, Jesse’s wife (an endearing Christina Jackson), a sounding board and emotional anchor during the harder moments. Their intimacy and palpable love for each other bring a depth to the characters and the story that the action-driven drama could have eclipsed.
As for the action, it’s intense enough to keep you on the edge, as you never know who will meet their demise, and the story builds to a pulse-pounding crescendo. But I give kudos to the director J.D. Dillard for not relying on graphic, gory war violence that would have distracted viewers from the focus of the story.
There are moments where the pace is a little slow, but I think it parallels the time it took for Brown to see Hudner as a trusted friend, and not just a fellow pilot.
In the end, the story and the performances will have you reaching for tissues, and the film earns its spot as one of the best biopics of 2022. Capping it all off, Joe Jonas’s original song, “Not Alone” plays in the background at a pivotal moment – one that drives home the historical importance of what we just watched.
An inspiring and important biopic, Devotion is as riveting as Top Gun: Maverick — but in many ways tops it with its history-making hero and the emotional resonance of the story.
Devotion does depict scenes of war, including casualties from ground fire and aerial battles, but it leaves out anything explicit or bloody. It also contains some racial slurs, including the N-word.
But the film ultimately honors veterans and may appeal to those in your life. Age-wise: leave this one for the 13 and up.
The film is based on the book Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice written by military historian Adam Makos.