Devotion Review

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One way to tell the history and introduce heroes to an audience is by making war dramas based on true events. But narrating these stories can be tricky especially when the hero happens to be a black American soldier because it means confronting issues that go beyond those of wartime. However, some of those obstacles are parts of our nation’s history that many people prefer to forget about yet they erase the contributions made by such talented and brave folks. It is a tale that if told well, can change a person’s life forever. This movie, directed by J.D. Dillard, Devotion, revolves around Ensign Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors), who becomes the first black pilot to be certified in basic flight training in the US Navy. The plot focuses on his bizarre friendship with another naval aviator Lt. Tom Hudner (Glen Powell) at the beginning stage of a military conflict which tested their ability as pilots against their personal feelings for each other.

For several people, it is the Top Gun films by Tony Scott that determine how they take fighter pilot tales. They present a unique opportunity for us all to replace one set of colorful fictions with another one – this time it will have realistic depth and color. Then again, there are no caped crusaders among us; only men like Vought F4U-4 Corsairs’ pilots who flew into North Korean airspace to save lives.

The novel-based Devotion opens with Hudner arriving on base as the last member of the VF-32 squadron. The protagonist enters his team room just in time to witness Brown hurling verbal abuses at himself while showering nearby. It’s quite strange though arresting unveiling of manhood that sets off Major’s performance as he comes out as someone whose weaknesses are exposed through a coping mechanism that isn’t clear. Rather than following through with his quest for qualifying, we jump into events immediately prior to an attack triggering hostilities between North and South Korea. This was quite an intelligent move as it enabled an account of wartime that deals primarily with male relationships.

As soon as Brown meets other squad mates, the atmosphere changes. They are a happy bunch and quickly welcome Hudner – yet at first sight, one can sense Brown’s coldness which is more remarkable than the fact he was only African-American in his team. It’s when you ask yourself why he behaves so standoffishly that your heart will break.Dillard effectively incorporates the typical elements of war films by his ensemble for its clever quips and tacit loyalty to each other that offsets the profoundness of imminent peril. Devotion has plenty of action, but unlike characters such as this one who become mere tools for recording anxiety-filled intensity and battles.

Dillard’s camera is firmly trained on Majors as he navigates a minefield as the only Black pilot in the Navy. Majors has an understated power, showing that Brown is not easy to trust. Although self-assured of his abilities, he still tests his squad members openly. He will have none of that “standing up” for him whenever others are mean or threaten him because he wants to do this on his own and does not need someone to save him but rather a loyal friend who has his back. If Top Gun: Maverick was a welcomed reminder of why you love aviation movies, then Dillard’s Korean war movie marries those propulsive aerial sequences and cockpit point-of-view with good reasons why we should change our view about pilots and their wingmen. Thankfully, it is not all character studies but also contains sharp plot movements out and within the air.

And Tom Hudner played by Glen Powell certainly doesn’t stand in for me as an audience proxy “discovering” racism.” It’s 1950s when most casualties forced the U.S military to abandon its open segregation and disenfranchisement of blacks soldiers though they were never properly accepted. Racism against Blacks is part of everyday life here; however, it goes unnoticed by many whites such as Hudner who grow up without facing racial challenges,” explains Powell’s role in the film (pp. 2-3).

His decision to join the Navy indicated how he would be positioned within the group; at least it explained what had motivated other members into joining up with their fellow servicemen from different backgrounds so that they could fight together against common enemies rather than among themselves resulting from misunderstandings concerning lifestyle choices and other personal matters relating directly towards race which some might consider divisive or unacceptable under certain conditions. The tale highlights how ignorant Hudner can be when he fails to understand why Brown refuses to believe in him even when their relationship is at a crucial stage. And ultimately, it would be inevitable that black people striving to live full lives amid such oppressive circumstances would end up breaking those who have tried to keep them down and also changing society in ways they could not have imagined.

It’s pretty obvious that Hudner and Brown are both top pilots. Therefore, the first test of the squadron’s worth – qualifying to land on carriers – becomes even more exciting when you realize that there is something else going on with Brown beyond his skills or getting used to his plane. And once you finally discover what is holding him back, like Hudner, you will not get away from the cold truth about being black in a world designed for others.

Dillard’s story direction of constantly layering antagonistic encounters between people highlights the prejudice that Brown faces repeatedly. A noise complaint lodged by an anonymous person that led to police coming to his house. Forced to sit for pictures and expected to repeat public relations-ready sound bites about race for reporters. He took racist insults from a sailor on a ship. Every occurrence demonstrates why Brown can’t trust anyone completely. Dillard flat out dismisses the laziness of relying on physical violence as a means of depicting what may befall Brown in case he faces racism. Moreover, Dillard makes sure she includes moments of respect, joy, and camaraderie which make this work even more effective. It is not a story that tries to condemn everyone as latent racists any more than it ignores the fact that as intended by design, Brown succeeds despite a racist system.

In addition, it is their lack of active alienation towards Brown but their inability to understand how something that appears unimportant could be very devastating for him (Hudner). Choosing subtlety and normalcy over sensationalism is risky when dealing with discrimination issues in writing or film works. People are uncomfortable because they realize how widespread and ordinary anti-Blackness can be (hooks 1995:13). Instead of going with the conventional route involving more physical violence so as to leave room for the development of this squadron into one unit, there was an emphasis on other aspects of the storyline which gave it real impact (González 2012:1). This too is just as much Hudner’s narrative as it is Brown’s.

The first part of the movie shows us how much Brown loves flying and his family ties. Unlike all his comrades who are single and have no children, he cherishes his wife dearly and has two kids with her ( Moore 2008:2). Daisy, played by Christina Jackson with daisy warmth and comedy would definitely make you enjoy watching this movie (Munro 2010:3). The confident and charismatic performance of Powell is a perfect foil to the stoicism, intensity and vulnerability exhibited by Majors (Moore 2008:4). Hudner rejected his family expectations when he joined the military (Dillard 2012:2). He is one of those men who believe in their country and its people.

The stormy relationship between the pilots does not prevent them from finding common ground (hooks 1995:12). Dillard’s direction tends towards showing rather than telling (“Dillard’s Guide” 10), underpinning silence with strategic conversations among characters at critical moments as opposed to cumbersome information dumps. Thus, the film gives us lessons about friendship, and microaggressions without losing its narrative quality.

You cannot avoid being completely absorbed by this crew when the actual fight in Devotion hits. The air raids are breathtakingly beautiful but still quite lifelike. Even amid the action choreography, every member of this small ensemble contributes to making the whole much better than the sum of its parts. When the final act takes a darker tone, however, it does feel like warfare’s larger elements and confronting the enemy have been well represented. There aren’t a lot of modern stories about the Korean War, there are hardly any that place racial dynamics front and center from a Black perspective. It looks counterintuitive, however, not shying away from that topic actually enables it to be told as a story about the friendship between two men of different races without degenerating into a shallow white savior narrative which would do an injustice to its subjects. Friendship is at the heart of “Devotion,” loyalty, and honest connection where nobody gets left behind. This book is filled with heartbreaking twists and turns, thrilling action scenes, and evergreen optimism.


Devotion is an honorable introduction to heroes that should be celebrated worldwide. J.D Dillard directs it thoughtfully through Erik Messerschmidt’s incredibly sharp cinematography, stirring soundtracks, and intense editing thus making it one of the most engaging war dramas even outclassing some epic aerial combat movies.

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