Devotion brings the Adam Makos book to the big screen in this inspiring true story about Navy fighter pilots Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner.
The climax of the film focuses on the most brutal battle during a war that most people tend to look over these days: the Korean War. But before this, he focus is on an unlikely friendship between a pair of US Navy fighter pilots, Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors) and Tom Hudner (Glen Powell). This is a classic case where we never learn about Brown in school. I mean, this is the first Black aviator in U.S. Navy history! Brown and Hudner were wingmen looking out for each other, up in the air and down on the ground. In terms of personal life, Brown may get the bigger focus but we also see Hudner being welcomed with open arms by Brown’s wife, Daisy. (Christina Jackson). It’s another reminder that these are real people, even though we don’t see Tom’s family during the film.
Brown isn’t immune to racism in the US Navy but his closest colleagues are there to have his back. Even when Elizabeth Taylor invites him to a casino in Cannes, they almost don’t even get through the door! But despite the challenges, Brown manages to persevere in life. It’s only in the end when he cannot fight the biggest challenge of his life: survival. Hudner comes back for him but sadly, it’s too late. We don’t see what happens long after his tragic death: Hudner’s family and Brown’s surviving family remaining close friends. Until his death, Hudner kept working to bring Jesse’s body home from North Korea. He made a trip in 2013 but it didn’t result in Jesse coming home. To this date, nothing has happened. Maybe this film will offer closure for the family but these two are heroes for their service and friendship.
What makes JD Dillard the right filmmaker is that his father was a Blue Angel. He’s a filmmaker who has heard the aviation stories and this experience comes through on screen. Brown and Hudner’s legacy are in good hands with Dillard. Meanwhile, Glen Powell looked into optioning the film rights only to find out another producer held the rights. Powell was previously in Hidden Figures, which told the story of a trio of women working for NASA. It’s because of that film that it is hopeful that Devotion will do for Brown what Hidden Figures did for the Black women of NASA. Whether this film also becomes a Best Picture contender remains to be seen but it’s definitely among the best films of the year. Both Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell should be in the Oscar conversation, too.
Because this film stars Glen Powell, there’s a good chance that it will unfairly be compared to Top Gun. Do not do this because it’s not fair to either film, let alone the two fighter pilots who served in the Korean War. Both Hudner and Brown served our country in the forgotten war and deserve some respect. Moreover, Majors and Powell give a full portrait of these real-life people in both their good times and bad. The racism can get rather ugly to watch but sadly, that was the reality for the time.
All of the TIFF screenings were presented in IMAX. When I attended a screening, the lighting felt darker then usual. After speaking with colleagues, the assumption is because a bulb was out. Regardless, this is one of those films where IMAX makes for the best experience in watching the film especially for Erik Messerschmidt’s cinematography. Aerial coordinator Kevin LaRosa Jr. and aerial DP Michael FitzMaurice also put in some tremendous work on the film so that audiences can take in the film for all of its thrilling experiences in the air. Top Gun: Maverick veteran FitzMaurice brings the same in-camera, practical flying style to this film for its benefit. The cinematography never looks too period even though this is a period film. They find the right balance in telling the story. Plus, the technology is there for filmmakers to be able to tell this story in full authenticity.
Devotion tells a little-known story but it’s a celebration of Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner’s friendship and what it means to be a wingman and an aviator. I thank them for their service.
DIRECTOR: JD Dillard
SCREENWRITERS: Jake Crane & Jonathan A. H. Stewart
CAST: Jonathan Majors, Glen Powell, Christina Jackson, and Thomas Sadoski, Joe Jonas
Devotion held its world premiere during the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival in the Special Presentations program. Columbia Pictures will release the film on November 23, 2022. Grade: 4.5/5
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