HomeReviewsReview: ‘Devotion’ stirringly tells the story of the Navy’s first Black aviator

Review: ‘Devotion’ stirringly tells the story of the Navy’s first Black aviator

JD Dillard’s 2016 breakout feature film, “Sleight,” was a low-budget gem that showcased what this up-and-coming filmmaker could do. Applying an indie sensibility to a gritty, magic-inspired superhero origin story, his focus on character over spectacle made “Sleight” moving and memorable. In Dillard’s new film, the Korean War epic “Devotion,” the budget may have gotten bigger, and the sumptuous, soaring visuals more spectacular, but the emphasis on character remains the same.

That makes “Devotion” an emotional and fitting tribute to the real men behind an incredible true story. The experiences of Lt. Tom Hudner and Ensign Jesse Brown in the Korean War are detailed in Adam Makos’ 2014 book, “Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice,” adapted for the screen by Jake Crane and Jonathan Stewart. Glen Powell, who has cornered the market on playing wingmen this year with “Devotion” and “Top Gun: Maverick,” plays Tom Hudner; the remarkable actor Jonathan Majors plays Jesse Brown.

Working with Academy Award-winning cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, Dillard creates an aesthetic for “Devotion” that harks back to classic war films: The pilots’ Brylcreemed coifs gleam against their leather bomber jackets; their shiny new Corsair planes sweep triumphantly through the clouds of coastal New England during their training flights. What they’re training for remains to be seen, as this crop of aviators missed out on “The Big Show” of World War II. Tom, a Naval Academy graduate, is antsy to prove himself. Jesse, the Navy’s first Black pilot, just wants to fly.

Jesse also wants to settle down with his young family, and going to combat is the exchange he makes for doing what he loves, despite the worries of his wife, Daisy (Christina Jackson). Bachelor Tom’s still searching for what he’s fighting for (aside from war hero status). He thinks it’s a woman, but he finds that his purpose in combat is right next to him, in his friend Jesse.

“Devotion,” at 2 hours and 18 minutes, takes its time building the world and the characters within, which proves to be crucial motivation for the second half’s aerial action. In laying the groundwork, Crane and Stewart’s script is refreshingly restrained: It shows the characters in natural conversation as they work together and avoids clunky exposition.

We understand the racism Jesse has experienced through tensions with the Marines aboard their aircraft carrier, and an anecdote he relates to Tom about the grueling, unfair swim test he was subjected to by the Navy. We see how he struggles internally with the trauma of racism in the strange ritual he completes when he’s alone, repeating the horrible insults and slurs to himself in the mirror. “It helps,” he says ruefully when Tom catches him. It’s a coping mechanism that’s not explained or fixed, but just a part of his character.

At the same time, Jesse has become an important symbol — for the Navy, for the nation and for the Black sailors who run to the deck to watch his every takeoff and landing. Jesse, who keeps his emotions close to the vest, is uncomfortable when a Life magazine photographer wants a photo shoot of him, but he is quietly moved when one of the Black sailors presents him with a Rolex watch that they went in on as a token of their appreciation.

Powell, with his sharp, all-American profile, fits the bill of a clean-cut New England pilot from privilege, and the supporting cast, including Joe Jonas, Spencer Neville and Nick Hargrove as the other pilots, brings some personality to the posse. Thomas Sadoski is particularly great as their no-nonsense but empathetic commander. But the performance of the film is Majors’, who always makes the unexpected and interesting choice. It’s in the way he hooks a thumb in his flight suit, or the cadence of his speech, or the long look he gives a sailor who can’t believe that Elizabeth Taylor (Serinda Swan) has just invited this Black pilot to an exclusive Cannes casino.

It is fun to watch the boys flirt with French women during their shore leave, and while it may seem a dalliance before the action, it’s an important part of knowing Jesse and Tom, and their relationship, before we get to the high-flying heroism. Tonally, “Devotion” remains steady, never going for over-the-top emotion or sensation, simply seeking to express something authentically moving and human. It unmistakably achieves that, delivering a stirring story of friendship during war, and beyond, that is both rare and real.

‘Devotion’ now playing at Statesboro theater

County Airport was transformed into the set of a major motion picture and lots of local residents are hoping they made the final cut as extras.

“Devotion,” the true life, Korean War story of Jesse L. Brown and Thomas Hudner, was just released nationwide and is now playing at the Statesboro AMC Classic 12 theater. Early reviews suggest the movie may be a small hit, with a 77% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Most of the cast and crew of the $90-million picture were in Statesboro at some point during February to May of 2021 to film scenes on a set built out at the airport. In fact, prior to the start of any filming, a massive replica of the flight deck of an aircraft carrier was constructed at the airport to serve as a backdrop for various action sequences.

Producers said they chose the Statesboro airport over several other possible locations around the country and one in Mexico. Bulloch County Commission Chairman Roy Thompson said at the time the county received a “substantial” monthly rental fee for the use of the airport runway.

Also, dozens of local residents joined the film crew as extras, serving as sailors and other personnel needed to fill in the background of many scenes. Working for the scale wage of $12 per hour, some were on set at the airport 10 to 12 hours a day for more than two weeks.

But none knew at the time if they might catch a glimpse of themselves on the big screen.

Devotion is the true story of aviators Brown and Hudner. Brown was the first African American to complete the Navy’s basic flight training program for pilot qualification and to be designated a naval aviator. Hudner was a white New Englander who decided to become a Navy pilot rather than attend Harvard University.

The two became friends and wingmen in the same fighter squadron.

In December 1950, Ensign Brown took off from the aircraft carrier USS Leyte in a Vought F4U-4 Corsair for a mission the Chosin Reservoir area of North Korea. Antiaircraft fire struck the Corsair and Brown crash-landed his plane on the side of a mountain in the snow.

Flying over the crash site, then Lieutenant Hudner saw Brown had not gotten out of the cockpit and decided to emergency crash land his plane next to Brown to see if he could help his friend.

The movie, which is based on a 2014 book of the same name by Adam Makos, tells the story of Brown and Hudner that, while tragic, is ultimately uplifting.

Devotion stars Jonathan Majors, who is known for the HBO series “Lovecraft Country,” as Brown, and Glen Powell, who played a rival of Tom Cruise’s character in “Top Gun: Maverick,” as Hudner. Also, pop star Joe Jonas is part of the supporting cast in his first feature role.

Will Devotion Be Released in Theaters?

Absolutely! Devotion is scheduled for an exclusive theatrical release.

When is the Release Date for Devotion?

Devotion is set to be released in theaters on November 23, 2022.

Initially, the movie was planned for a limited theater release on October 22, 2022, and then proceeded with a wide expansion on October 28, 2022.

The movie previously made its premiere on September 12, 2022, at the Toronto International Film Festival in IMAX held at the Ontario Place Cinesphere. Devotion is also the opening night film at Film Fest 919 which took place on October 19, 2022.

You can visit the film’s official websiteFandangoRegalAMC TheatresCinemark, and for Canadian theatergoers: Cineplex.

Is Devotion Streaming Online?

devotion glen powell joe jonas jonathan majors
Image via Sony

There’s currently no news on when Devotion will be available for online streaming, but thanks to a deal between Sony and Netflix, the film will eventually be able to stream on the latter. However, things might change in the future, so be sure to stay tuned!

Is There A Trailer For Devotion?

The trailer for Devotion was released by Sony Pictures Entertainment on August 1, 2022. The clip introduces us to Jesse Brown (Majors), who’s regarded as one of the best fighter pilots anyone’s ever seen. With an exceptionally risky position as a naval aviator, Brown isn’t fazed by anything. Fellow fighter pilot Hudner (Powell) comes into the picture and immediately befriends Brown, choosing to ignore the several officers frowning upon the idea of having a colored aviator on the squadron.

The chemistry between the two immediately sets off, both on the ground and in the sky. Their skills and strengths are soon tested in the Korean War, where there is trouble brewing along the 38th parallel. Taking us to the front lines of gruesome battles, Devotion is a riveting story of the sacrifices made by soldiers in a war that’s often forgotten.

What is Devotion About?

Below is the official synopsis for Devotion:

“Devotion, an aerial war epic based on the bestselling book of the same name, tells the inspirational true story of two elite US Navy fighter pilots who helped turn the tide in the most brutal battle in the Korean War: Jesse Brown, the first Black aviator in Navy history and his fellow fighter pilot and friend, Tom Hudner. Their heroic sacrifices and enduring friendship would ultimately make them the Navy’s most celebrated wingmen.”

What was Production Like for Devotion?

devotion jonathan majors social
Image via Sony

Plans for Devotion started in March 2018, when Black Label Media optioned the rights to the film. Powell was already on board the film and confirmed to star as Tom Hudner. Meanwhile, Majors was officially cast in the movie in December 2019. It was only until September 2020 that Sony Pictures stepped in as the film’s U.S. distributor.

Powell has a long history of Devotion. He first read the book when it was published in 2014, and recommended it to Black Label. He even paid a visit to the real-life Thomas J. Hudner Jr. before his passing in 2017. Director Dillard also feels the story hits close to home, as he is the son of a naval aviator. Inspired by the war stories of his father, who himself was one of the few black men in a predominantly white aviation environment, he channeled those into Devotion.

Principal photography for the film started on February 4, 2021, and filming took place in numerous locations ranging from Charleston to Washington. As for the aircraft scenes, Dillard enlisted the help of Top Gun: Maverick’s aerial stunt coordinator Kevin LaRosa to work on the flight sequences using as many real aircraft as possible – which includes multiple F4U Corsairs, two F8F Bearcat fighters, an AD Skyraider, and the only flyable HO5S-1 helicopters available.

More Fighter Aircraft Movies You Can Watch Now

Glen Powell, Jonathan Majors Devotion movie image
Image via Sony

Top Gun – It would be a huge crime to talk about aircraft movies without mentioning Top Gun. A massive Hollywood staple, the movie follows US Navy Lieutenant Pete Mitchell, otherwise known as Maverick (Tom Cruise), a pilot ace recently accepted into Top Gun, recognized as Miramar’s elite Fighter School. With his daredevil spirit, Maverick comes face to face with some of the school’s best pilots, notably the highly competitive and equally daring Iceman (Val Kilmer). Throughout his journey, Maverick must learn how to balance his wild flying antics to win the respect of the school’s astrophysics’ instructor Charlie (Kelly McGillis) and snatch the prized Top Gun Trophy.

Black Hawk Down – Adapted from the best-selling book of the same name, Black Hawk Down follows 100 U.S. Army Rangers as they take on one of the riskiest missions in Somalia. Under the command of Capt. Mike Steele (Jason Isaacs), these army rangers are deployed by helicopter directly into the heart of Mogadishu, resulting in a deadly firefight involving the U.S. Special Forces and Somali gunmen, ultimately destroying two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters. Black Hawk Down focuses on SSG Eversmann (Josh Hartnett) and his men as they attempt to survive the battle with their heroic and self-sacrificing efforts.

Midway – Six months after the horrible attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii by Japanese forces, the U.S. naval base has to prepare itself for another battle in the Pacific with the arrival of the Japanese navy. Over three days, the American fleet, which includes a squadron of death-defying fighter pilots, finds themselves taking on a war mission that will soon become one of the most crucial turning points of World War II.

Sources: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7

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