If you still feel the need for speed after watching Top Gun: Maverick, the highest-grossing film in 2022, then Devotion might have you covered. However, the two naval aviation films are incomparable because one is fiction, and the latter depicts real-life people and events. Devotion follows America’s first Black navy pilot Jesse L. Brown (Jonathan Majors), during the early stages of the Korean War, also known as ‘The Forgotten War’, and his wholesome home life with his wife Daisy (Christina Jackson) and their young daughter.
Glen Powell, who can’t stay out of fighter planes this year, leads alongside Majors as wingman Tom Hudner. The riveting film begins with Hudner joining Fighter Squadron 32. This is where he meets Brown and where our real story lies. Their close bond serves as a fantastic avenue for the audience to empathize with both of them. The ensemble cast and the men who make up the rest of the squadron include Thomas Sadoski, Nick Hargrove, Spencer Neville, and Joe Jonas. It was nice to see that despite the disapproving attitudes other pilots on the carrier had for Jesse Brown, his fellow pilots were supportive.
A scene still etched in memory is one that sealed the deal as Majors’ best performance yet. Standing in front of a mirror, Jesse Brown says awful things only a Black person in the 1940s would hear to his reflection. You learn that what first comes off as deep self-hatred is all the things white people have said to Brown to discourage him from being a pilot. With a film like this, it’s easy to slip into the white saviour space, but the scriptwriters Jake Crane and Jonathan Stewart consciously tried to avoid that. There is more than one scene where Brown vehemently tells Hudner that he does not need nor require his help regarding discriminatory remarks from others.
At its core, Devotion is more a character study than another war film. This is a reflection on Jesse Brown, whose ultimate goal was to be in the sky but also return to his family so that he could build that house that he’s been sketching down in between missions. Among his peers, Brown was stoic and focused and didn’t stray from the rules; behind closed doors, he was as jovial and tender as ever with his family.
The title Devotion is all-encompassing. It’s Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner’s devotion to each other as friends and wingmen, Brown’s devotion to Daisy, and his devotion to serving a country that wasn’t ready to accept him as he was. It is a tale of genuine camaraderie and kinship between guys who train for combat and flying aircrafts that are very unexpected and demand highly skilled pilots.
Inspired by Adam Makos’ biography of the same name, director JD Dillard and cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt do not disappoint with great flight sequences that feel thrilling and realistic. Seeing the film in IMAX adds to the immersive experience and is the only way to display the heartfelt and inspiring true story of Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner.
Devotion had its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival on September 12. It flies into theatres on November 23.
by Kadija Osman
Kadija Osman is based in Toronto, Ontario and is currently completing her undergrad in journalism at Ryerson University. She enjoys writing about film and TV. When she isn’t watching Timothée Chalamet’s filmography, she is probably reading romance and thriller novels or ranting about the disappointing cancellation of E!’s The Royals. Her favourite films include Kingsman: The Secret Service, Lady Bird and Ready or Not. You can find her on Twitter: @kadijaosman_ and Letterboxd.