Review: Devotion Explores a Real-Life Fighter Pilot Friendship with Patience, Humility and Heart

Still very much in the shadow of another, far flashier film about Naval aviators, Devotion takes a lower-key approach than Top Gun: Maverick and focuses on both history and friendship. Based on the true story of Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors), the first Black aviator in Navy history, and his friend and fellow pilot Tom Hudner (Glen Powell), the film gracefully walks us through the beginnings of their friendship through to their inspirational work turning the tide in the most brutal battle of the Korean War. Directed by J.D. Dillard (Sleight, Sweetheart), Devotion sometimes feels like its ticking off boxes for any film about the military, but each time the film circles back around to these two men growing closer and more protective of each other, it soars above your standard-issue tough-guy pilot story.

Once again showing us how to fortify slightly underwritten material, Majors’ portrayal of Brown works best when he does all in his power not to stand out or be thought of as some sort of token placement by his fellow pilots, outside journalists, or anyone else. He’s arguably the best fighter pilot among his peers, and he wants that fact to be the only reason anyone is noticing him. And the truth is, his fellow aviators treat him as an equal, which is all that he wants. We get glimpses of his home, which he shares with wife Daisy (Christina Jackson) and their young daughter. Hudner truly wants to be supportive, and through trial and error, he eventually gets to a place where Brown is comfortable inviting him to his home to meet his family.

The film also stars Thomas Sadoski as their commanding officer, who expectedly sends them out on a death-defying mission to destroy bridges being used strategically by the enemy. The sequence is infinitely more believable than anything in Top Gun: Maverick, and the stakes actually seem to matter to these flyers. In his effort to show us exactly what happened in the lives and friendship between Brown and Hudner, the film sometimes feels a little stiff and uneventful, unless you count the sequence in which they are on leave and befriend Elizabeth Taylor (Serinda Swan). It may sound silly when I say it, but it bonded this group of pilots in a way that few things could. You could certainly find more exciting and action-packed movies in theaters right now, but Devotion has something many films don’t: patience, humanity, and more than little humility.

The film is now playing in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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