Title: ‘Devotion’

Director: J.D. Dillard

Starring: Jonathan Majors, Glen Powell, Thomas Sadoski, Christina Jackson and Joe Jonas

Some of the most honorable people in the world are those who are so loyal to the people of their country that they’re willing to put their own safety into jeopardy. That was certainly the case for the first African-American elite fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy, Jesse Brown, who served during the Korean War. His story of being so determined to defend his country that he was willing to endure institutional bigotry is chronicled in the upcoming aerial war epic film, ‘Devotion.’

The drama was directed by J.D. Dillard, the son of the second African-American member of the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels squadron. Jake Crane and Jonathan Stewart wrote the script for ‘Devotion,’ which is based on the 2015 bestselling book of the same name by Adam Makos that chronicles Brown and Hudner’s real-life story. Sony Pictures Releasing is distributing the feature in theaters today.

Devotion chronicles the growing relationship between Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors) and his fellow fighter pilot, Tom Hudner (Glen Powell). Though they’re both gifted pilots, Jesse has more trouble adjusting to the fighter plane the Navy introduced in 1950, the Vought F4U Corsair, whose bulky engine blocked visibility.

Also struggling to be away from his wife, Daisy (Christina Jackson), and their young daughter, as well as racism from his otherwise all white team of fighter pilots, Jesse finds comfort in his growing friendship with Tom. Their shared heroic sacrifices and enduring friendship ultimately made them the Navy’s most celebrated wingmen.

The movie delivers a powerful, vital message that still resonates in modern American culture, more than 70 years after Brown  and Hudner served together in the Navy in real life. Through the lens of Majors and Powell’s time in the Navy together, Devotion chronicles how integration was a difficult process across American society. Those people who were driven by their beliefs of their own superiority over Jesse and his fellow African-Americans, especially in terms of race, tried to hold on to their power as long as possible, which is harrowingly still occurring in contemporary society.

The film emotionally chronicles and celebrates the professional and personal relationships between Brown and Hudner. The story is largely driven by the fact that the latter was the only white officer who truly protected and championed the first African-American aviator to complete the U.S. Navy’s basic flight training program.

Majors and Powell worked stunningly together to create fully dimensional characters and compassionately bring them to life on screen. Their stellar performances prove how Brown and Hudner defied American societal norms regarding race that were in place during the Korean War, as they refused to allow their colleagues dictate the status of their relationship.

Besides Majors and Powell’s enthralling, humanizing portrayals of the empowering dynamic between their characters, Devotion also visually captivates audiences’ attention, particularly through its dazzling flight sequences. The airborne scenes were expertly shot by Director of Photography, Erik Messerschmidt, who won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography last year for the biographical drama, Mank.

The Director of Photography enthrallingly brings viewers into the Vought F4U Corsair planes the fighter pilots fly throughout the war. As Brown and Hudner engage with not only each other, but also their fellow pilots, to determine the best way to fight their newly declared enemies in Korea, Messerschmidt switches between captivating varying shots.

From intimate close-up shots of the pilots’ faces as they communicate over their radios to vast, sweeping wide shots of the planes’ perfectly choreography formations over their enemy’s territories, the war movie’s beautifully shot actions sequences help keep the story soaring.

Besides the aerial scenes, Messerschmidt also maintains the Devotion’s emotiona while the pilots are stationed on the ground. He helped chronicle how Majors invests a tremendous amount of conviction into his character, particularly in an emotionally gripping scene in which he criticizes his reflection in a mirror, as a sort of motivational exercise. The scenes captures Brown’s soul as he painfully recites every racist comment that was ever directed at him.

Devotion tells an emotionally and visually satisfying story that ranks it as one of cinema’s most captivating biographical war dramas. Majors and Powell’s stellar performances prove how Brown and Hudner defied American societal norms about race during the Korean War, as they refused to allow their colleagues dictate the status of their relationship.

Combined with intimate close-up shots of the pilots and vast, sweeping wide shots of their planes during their missions to stop their enemies in Korea, Devotion tells an important social justice story from the Korean War that’s still vital to modern society.

Technical: A

Acting: A-

Story: A-

Overall: A-

(L-R): Actors Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell star in director J.D. Dillard’s biographical war drama, ‘Devotion.’

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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