Despite how closely it paints by numbers, Devotion does a decent job of being a compelling war drama.
Devotion (2022) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on February 22, 2023
Rating 3 /5
Based on a true story, Devotion tells how Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner formed a bond in the NAVY that defied racism during the Korean War. As far as war biopics go, this one doesn’t hold many surprises in its assembly. It’s poignant when it needs to be, tense when the gunfire rips, and heartbreaking when the music swells for the sacrifice of soldiers. Despite how little this film breaks from convention, it remains a satisfying and essential story.
The powerhouse of the picture is Jonathan Majors, who is taking on the lead role of Ensign Jesse Brown. He’s a devoted man with a wife and child, hoping to serve in the NAVY as a pilot will bode well for him in the 1950s. While at the Quonset Point Naval Air Station with Fighter Squadron 32, he meets the devoted soldier Lieutenant Tom Hudner (Glen Powell). The two connect as Tom recognizes Jesse’s issues with getting to the base and helps him with rides. He later gets to know his family and forms a trust with this pilot.
Tom and Jesse prove themselves within the squadron during training, eventually getting transferred to the USS Leyte and tasked with challenging missions in Korean airspace. While Tom seems to do well, Jesse feels the pressure to perform even better than his white co-pilot. There’s a struggle within him about failure creeping in as he fights off the racism in America. When being photographed by journalists, he undercuts their suggestion of him being a highlight for being the only black man in his squadron. Later, he’ll talk his way into a discriminating club in France by showcasing how much French he has learned. Yet there’s always that terror that lurks with him. He stares into the mere at one point, beating himself up by using racial slurs and telling himself that he will fail.
Jesse proves himself on the battlefield, as one might expect from this story. When his squad is tasked with taking out two bridges while avoiding Chinese gunfire they can’t shoot back at, Jesse makes the controversial call to defy orders and take out the last bridge himself. It’s not just a matter of being overly confident or an exceptional devotion to extolling the American involvement in the war. It’s to prove that he’s not a failure. Even when he’s watched other pilots fail to meet the challenge, he recognizes that his standards are much higher. One slip up and he could be forever labeled as the reason for racists to continue their discrimination within the NAVY.
Devotion has some solid filmmaking for being so predictable in its assembly. The many dogfight sequences are well-staged and genuinely exciting to watch. The drama outside the cockpit is decent, and there’s a robust sense of character development in these many scenes. But the film sadly prattles on with so many cliches touches to amp up the drama. For example, one of the most tragic scenes is when Jesse’s plane is gunned down in enemy territory, and Tom rushes to his aid. It becomes clear that Tom can’t save him, and the film proceeds with lukewarm somber music as Jesse’s wife gets the bad news. The routine progression becomes all the more noticeable amid the film’s 139-minute running time.
Despite how closely it paints by numbers, Devotion does a decent job of being a compelling war drama. The best reason to watch the film is for Majors and Powell, who have some great chemistry and make the most out of these roles that feel like they’re placed under a strict lock and key. In terms of trying to perfectly adapt this story, based on the book by Adam Makos, the film stays true to its title with a devotion to presenting a dignified portrayal. The faithfulness, however, mainly results in an okay film that tells a crucial true story in a manner almost frustratingly tactile.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.