There’s a good chance Devotion has flown below your radar. The marketing for the movie has been bizarrely lacking, despite the film’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Set before and during the Korean War, emphasized as the “‘forgotten war” in the film’s opening text, Devotion chronicles the lives of two pilots, their friendship and their struggles. But does 2022 have room for two aviation films?
Devotion stars Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell (fresh off his stint in Top Gun: Maverick) as Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner, respectively. The year is 1950 and both aviators find themselves in a world without a war. They didn’t serve in WWII and have yet to test their mettle in the sky. Jesse Brown was one of the first African-American aviators and with that, comes a lot of pressure and expectations. Not only does he have a family to provide for, but he has to prove that he’s just as good, if not better, than his peers. Tom Hudner is a recent transfer to Squadron 32 and ends up building up a rapport and friendship with Brown.
The film, directed by J.D. Dillard, is marketed as a Korean War film and that’s true to a degree, but a good chunk of this movie is actually about the months leading into the conflict. Based out of Rhode Island, the aviators find themselves learning the ins and outs of a new plane, the F4U Corsair. It’s faster and more powerful than previous planes and with that comes a much larger nose, something that the pilots struggle with. It’s one of many challenges the aviators face in Devotion, from racism to duty, to following the rules and knowing when to break them.
Considering these themes and subplots, it’s great to say that Majors and Powell have great chemistry on screen together as reluctant peers turned friends. Jesse Brown has a lot of walls and barriers up around him in order to keep those around him at arm’s length, which makes him hard to get close to at first. He’s also looking for opportunities to outperform and rise through the ranks in order to better provide for his family and is keen to do these things on his own terms, without anyone’s help. Tom is an all-around nice guy, despite being a very by-the-book kind of guy and has nothing really to fight for. So considering how opposite the two men are, it’s great to witness them slowly come together. The supporting cast is very much there as supporting roles, but a shoutout to Joe Jonas for being pretty engaging and for providing a well-done song for the end credits.
The dogfights and aerial scenes may not be Top Gun: Maverick, but Devotion isn’t trying to be either. Whereas that movie was peak popcorn fun, Devotion is more of a grounded drama and thus, the combat sequences feel less showboat-y. The planes are clunkier and slower but fly gracefully in the sky, barrel-rolling and banking their turns. There are some moments where you have to suspend some level of disbelief, but for the most part, the aerial sequences are engaging and feel authentic.
Apart from some cheese here and there, Devotion is a far more serious and dramatic movie than Top Gun. It explores the themes of friendship, race, discipline and new challenges in an engaging fashion that feels relatable and plausible. In the end, 2022 most certainly can at least boast it had two great aviator movies hit the big screen.