"Devotion" stars Jonathan Majors, Glen Powell, Christina Jackson, Joe Jonas, Thomas Sadoski, and Daren Kagasoff. Released on November 23, 2022, the film has two elite fighter pilots fighting in the Korean War.
The film was directed by J. D. Dillard, who also directed "Sleight" and "Sweetheart". It is based on the book by Adam Makos. There's no doubt that many stories depict someone's bravery and sacrifice during a specific part of history. However, we have barely scratched the surface of what we learned about the wars that occurred years ago. Along with the stories about heroism, some tales reflect on unlikely friendships that led people to change the course of the war. This story happens to be one of them. Thanksgiving is usually the time for us to spend quality time with our loved ones. However, this movie shows that it's also the time to honor the brave heroes who spent years defending our country, even though Veterans' Day was a couple of weeks ago. Better late than never, I guess. This is another Thanksgiving movie I reviewed late due to me spending the holiday with my family. I was interested in it because of my interest in war movies and appreciation towards Dillard's directorial debut, "Sleight". Unfortunately, I didn't find the time to watch it on opening weekend. Luckily, this weekend didn't have any new movies, so I used this opportunity to get a taste of this leftover. With that in mind, let's see if this latest war film is worth watching this holiday season.
The story takes place during the Korean War in 1950. The United States is among the allied countries supporting South Korea, while China and the Soviet Union fight with North Korea. The movie is a true story centering on Jesse Brown (Majors), an African-American aviator in a predominantly white aviation community. While struggling with racial segregation, he finds a friend in fellow navy aviator Tom Hudner (Powell). Together, Brown and Hudner fight to make history in one of the most destructive conflicts of the modern era.
I'm always a sucker for war movies, especially ones based on true events. Of course, you can say it's because of the thrilling high-stakes action scenes involving gun fights. However, it's also because of the characters' accomplishments during those darkest hours. Some were remembered for their impact on our culture. Others were overshadowed until they were brought into the spotlight. Combined with the exquisite filmmaking tools, these stories live on in our memories regarding the presentation and emotional impact. "Devotion" hopes to be another addition to that list by displaying Jesse Brown's remarkable journey in the Korean War. The only war movie I didn't like so far was Roland Emmerich's "Midway" three years ago due to its weak script and the lack of strong emotions. So I was hoping this film would offer something in the same vein as the other war classics like "Saving Private Ryan" and "1917" and not wind up like that emotionless bore.
The movie is more along the lines of a drama set against the backdrop of the Korean War than a fast-paced action blockbuster. While there are several scenes involving aerial combat and war, the film focuses mainly on the friendship between Jesse and Tom. From their first encounter to Jesse's tragic death, the two men from different backgrounds bond in an all-white aviator community inside and outside the battlefield. This direction helps develop these characters before they get sent into a high-stakes battle in Korea, which is one of the reasons I enjoy these films. "Devotion" marks another addition to that category by providing a well-acted and touching tribute to the wingmen's friendship in history's forgotten war.
Now, the question that's on my mind is how it fares compared to the other war classics. Well, for starters, it's not something that'll get a ton of awards this year regarding its storytelling. Despite the efforts made in its emotion, the film's story falters in some places when showcasing its commentary on racism in the aviator community. However, when it focuses on Jesse and Tom's friendship, the movie succeeds in providing charming, humorous, and, more importantly, touching moments. There were also times when the pacing felt slightly sluggish outside of its war sequences and the chemistry between the two actors. The film is around two hours and 18 minutes long, but it felt like it was at least two minutes longer. On the bright side, that's better than ten minutes. Despite those issues, the film's story is satisfying enough for me to forgive its straightforward formula.
One main reason for its compelling drama scenes is the actors involved, who delivered strong performances to elevate the movie. Jonathan Majors continues to be a shining star in the film industry thanks to his stellar portrayal of Jesse Brown. His performance offers a blend of charisma and subtleness to make Jesse an endearing yet troubled reflection of the real-life aviator. The sequence where Jesse repeats the hurtful comments he heard to himself shows how impressively talented Majors is. Additionally, Glen Powell was surprisingly great as Tom Hudner, making the actor two for two this year regarding movies involving fighter pilots, with the other being "Top Gun: Maverick". Christina Jackson and Thomas Sadoski were also impressive in their roles of Daisy Brown and Dick Cevoli, respectively.
The most interesting thing about the film is its director, J. D. Dillard. When I looked him up a while ago, I found that Dillard is the son of a naval aviator who also served in a white aviation community. So this idea was made with Dillard in mind, and rightfully so. Dillard's previous films were made on a small budget, with "Sleight" being the cheapest one, so this movie offers an opportunity for him to test his directorial skills with a much higher budget. For the most part, he managed to pass the test with flying colors. J. D. Dillard understands the community and the lone black aviator's perspective of it and provides an old-fashioned presentation that matches its thrilling action and heartfelt drama. In other words, he might be ready to tackle more big-budget movies like this.
Overall, "Devotion" may not soar as high as the war classics from years past. However, it offers a representation of heroism and friendship that's touching and compelling enough to bypass a few narrative shortcomings. It also serves as an enjoyable showcase for the talented cast involved, with Majors and Powell being the main attractions. While its pacing and middling thematic depth may keep it from flying into awards territory, the movie succeeds in honoring the brave heroes of the Korean War and the comradeship that formed during that event. If you're into war films and are familiar with the story it's based on, the movie is worth checking out.