DEVOTION(2022) – Review – We Are Movie Geeks


DEVOTION(2022) – Review

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It’s important to keep in mind when sitting down to the big holiday meal in a day or so, that many families will have a temporary missing seat at the table. That’s the case with so many households with loved ones serving in the military. And then there’s the empty seat that goes from temporary to permanent. This Thanksgiving weekend’s new film release touches on that with a tale of real-life heroism in the sky. Oh, but it’s not another TOP GUN wannabe, although it features one of the recent sequel’s hunky young stars. This is based on a conflict 72 years in the past. And, as I said, it’s all true concerning a group of men who possess a very special kind of DEVOTION.

The saga starts at a naval air base in Rhode Island as Navy fighter pilot Tom Hudner (Glen Powell) arrives for his new assignment. After checking in with his CO Dick Cevoli (Thomas Sadoski), Tom heads to the locker room and nearly runs into another pilot Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors). He’s the only African American flyer Tom’s ever met, but the men find they have much in common. Ditto for the rest of the elite squadron. However, Brown rarely socializes with his co-workers (he doesn’t even drink), preferring to spend all of his time with his wife Daisy (Christina Jackson), and their toddler daughter in their rented house. One night, Tom sees Jesse stranded after his car breaks down and offers him a lift home where Tom and Daisy share a beer. Soon after, time at the base gets more intense as Korea becomes a “hot zone. The whole squadron must get familiar with their new Corsair fighter jets in preparation for the “big show”. And things pick up even more when the squad is transferred to an aircraft carrier off the coast of Italy, where Brown must deal with on-deck landings and a group of racist Marines. Tom offers his help, but Jesse wants no special treatment. Everybody has a relaxing shore leave in Cannes, France (and rubs shoulders with an iconic silver screen starlet), But Tom and Jesse butt heads over dealing with equality and confronting prejudice. This flares up in Korea when Jesse ignores orders from Tom (put temporarily in command) during a bombing raid on a bridge. But they’ve got to put their “beefs” aside when they’re sent to back up ground troops during a deadly battle with an overwhelming horde of Chinese forces. Can they become a tight team and make it back home alive?

This story provides another terrific role for a star on the rise, Majors (he’ll soon face off against CREED before, reportedly, taking on the Avengers). His Brown is often quiet, even stoic, but we see that his emotions are bubbling beneath the surface. When he does vent, in a powerful solo sequence facing the camera as a mirror, Majors is riveting and heartbreaking as he rattles off a litany of racist bile he’s endured. Yet he also shows his tender side with his two loves (other than flying), Daisy and his sweet baby. When seeing this, Powell as Tom subtly sneaks in an envious grin. Yes, in many of the scenes, particularly with the French ladies, he’s got that Han Solo roguish charm, but Powell gives us much more of the inner soldier loyalty, building on his scene-stealing turn in the last TOP GUN flick. Sadoski projects a patriarchal warmth as the best “old man” these hotshots could ever hope to follow. He’s tough but doesn’t hide his pride and affection for his “guys”. And speaking of affection, Jackson shines as the apple of Jesse’s eye, who quietly worries for her spouse, but tries to coat her fear with a sassy, “no BS” demeanor. We also get an energetic group of young actors, including pop star Joe Jonas, who provide superb support for the lead duo.

Director J.D. Dillard has ably recreated the nostalgic look of the early 1950s tempered with the rise of tension in the early start of the “Cold War” (and those frozen Korean battlefields illustrate it). He shows us the monotony of the constant readiness for that siren to blare, ushering the guys into their cockpits. The screenplay by Jake Crane and Jonathan Stewart, adapting Adam Makos’ book, avoids several flying ace cliches while giving the Browns a rich, romantic backstory. At times the film gets bogged down with too many heated exchanges between Jesse and Tom over the racial bias of the era. Oh, but when this film gets airborne, it soars. with scenes almost as stunning, well as that other aerial epic from a few months ago. The planes twirl and twist, breaking formation and cutting the clouds from every possible angle. The dog fights are just as deadly as the ones in that “galaxy far far away”, and the sequence with the pilots making practice landings in their new rigs is a tense nail-biter. It all leads to an ending that’s a true emotional “gut punch”. It makes us wonder whether if in the similar type of situation, we’d have the same level of DEVOTION.

3 Out of 4

DEVOTION is now playing in theatres everywhere

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.