Devotion (2022) Movie Review

Director: J.D. Dillard
Writers: Jake Crane, Jonathan Stewart, Adam Makos (based on the book by)
Stars: Jonathan Majors, Glen Powell, Christina Jackson

When the dust settles and cooler heads prevail, some might consider Devotion to be the better of the two major Navy aviator movies released in 2022. Not to take anything away from Top Gun: Maverick, which is gobs of crowd-pleasing fun. But it’s essentially a high-concept thrill ride that owes as much to Star Wars as it does to the original Top Gun (in some ways, it’s practically a remake).

Devotion features similarly spectacular aerial sequences – mostly accomplished through practical special effects – which put the viewer right in the cockpit while buzzing over the terrain at dangerously low altitudes, close-quarter dogfights, or flying through barrages of enemy fire. The film even throws in Glen Powell, fresh from his enjoyable douchebaggery in Top Gun: Maverick, only this time his character feels like a real guy. Probably because he is.

It tells the true story of Ensign Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors) and Lt. Tom Hudner (Powell), two pilots who are part of a squadron serving on board an aircraft carrier at the beginning of the Korean War. Hudner’s the congenial new guy, while Brown is more guarded and cynical, largely due to the racism he’s experienced throughout most of his military career. We see some of that racism firsthand, but Brown’s since learned to internalize his anger and turn the other cheek, so he’s concerned when Hudner feels repeatedly compelled to defend him against others. Still, the two develop a close friendship based on trust.

And herein lies the difference. While the aerial action scenes are thrilling and suspenseful, Devotion isn’t built around them. Instead, the narrative focuses primarily on the relationship between Jesse and Tom, as well as the ignorance Jesse faces as a black aviator (he’s especially resentful that he’s considered a novelty by the press and public). The film may be lighter on action than one might expect, but because it takes the time to get us invested in these characters, the battles – mostly during the last hour – carry a lot more dramatic weight.

Anchored by solid performances from Powell and Majors (who’s been really busy lately), Devotion isn’t always exciting or “fun”, but its heart is in the right place. Though perhaps a tad too long, the film is affecting, looks great – especially in 4K – and features great attention to period detail. So don’t be surprised if it sticks with some of you longer than that other Navy pilot movie.

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