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'Devotion' highlights sacrifice of Christian Naval pilot Jesse Brown, seeks to 'honor' today's military: cast

Devotion
Jonathan Majors, left, and Glen Powell in a scene from "Devotion." |

This article contains spoilers about "Devotion."

“Devotion,” the stunning aerial drama starring “Top Gun” actor Glen Powell, singer Joe Jonas and more, tells the true story of Jesse Brown, a Christian naval aviator who lost his life in service to his country, and seeks to honor the men and women serving in the armed forces, the film’s cast and crew has said. 

Based on the book by Adam Makos, “Devotion” follows the true, yet little-known story of Brown (Jonathan Majors) and Thomas Hudner (Powell), two elite Navy pilots during the Korean War. 

Brown, a devoted husband and father, was the first African American aviator to complete the U.S. Navy’s basic flight training program and received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service. While serving in the Korean War, Brown and Hudner developed a close friendship — a bond that would prove to be stronger than the class and racial divides of early 20th century America. 

Directed by J.D. Dillard, “Devotion” highlights themes of sacrifice, loyalty and honor — traits that Brown, who was the first African American naval officer killed in the Korean War, exhibited throughout his life.

“Jesse Brown, for multiple reasons, has come to be my hero,” Majors told The Christian Post. “He offered me an opportunity of a lifetime to really strive for excellence, and to really push through adversity in an art form that I love and cherish and am extremely devoted to. And to bring them to the screen, and to tell his story and to be the mouthpiece for this brief time — his legacy is extremely important to me.”

“Each step of building Jesse was a learning experience for me: Jesse's a father, Jesse's a husband, he's an American, he's a Christian. He's all these things, but ultimately, he's a teacher, And so to bring his story, along with Thomas Hudner’s legacy, to the screen is just monumental.”

By highlighting the heroic sacrifices made by those in the Korean War, often called the “Forgotten War,” “Devotion” seeks to make today’s service members feel “seen and valued,” Powell, who also served as an executive producer on the film, told CP.

“I've always loved what the military means because it's service for a higher call; it’s a sacrifice for something greater than yourself,” the “Top Gun” actor said, adding that “devotion” means “endless sacrifice; doing something that's not necessarily in your best interest, but something that's right, something that represents your ideals, and what you want to leave.”

“The military members that we've shown this movie to have been overwhelmed by it because I really do feel like it embodies what it is to be a naval aviator, what it means to be a service member at large, and what that sacrifice actually is, and how to vocalize it in a very nuanced, complex and very truthful way,” he said. 

Rated PG-13 for strong language, some war action/violence, and smoking, the “Devotion” cast additionally includes Christina Jackson, Joe Jonas, Thomas Sadoski, Daren Kagasoff, Nick Hargrove and Spencer Neville.

Jonas, whose song “Not Alone” is featured in the film, told CP that while the film has plenty of incredible aerial footage and suspenseful war scenes, it’s full of relatable human emotion, highlighted in the tender relationship between Brown and his wife, Daisy, and their young daughter. 

“We all can think of people in our lives that serve or have served or grandparents, and it really hits home for a lot of us,” he said. “There's also a lot of emotion. There's a lot of time with Jesse Brown and Daisy in their house and the conversations they had, and I think it could be a bit reflective of what conversations would go on at home before somebody would go out and you go, OK, ‘I'll see you later, I'll see you tomorrow, I'll see you when I see you.’ And I think that's relatable."

For Dillard, “Devotion” felt like a personal story: His own father was an African American naval aviator, and the film follows some of the challenges Brown experienced as the first Black man to complete the U.S. Navy’s basic flight training program. For example, he shares, his commanding officer refused to pin his lapel wings at graduation. 

“My dad was 30 years behind Jesse, and maybe there would be no story of my dad without Jesse's first,” Dillard said. “But even with that time difference, they shared a lot of commonalities, they had a lot of the same experiences. So you know, it's so rare that you get to reach into your life so specifically when you are making something, when you are writing or directing something, but to have a tie … I've never cried more on a movie set. It definitely hit deep.”

Sadoski, who plays Hudner and Brown’s commanding officer, stressed that while “Devotion” is centered on the Korean War, it’s a film about people, rather than about “events or war.” That, he said, is a “really important distinction that too often gets overlooked.”

“I think that outside of the service community, as a society, we accidentally tend to fetishize our service members, and we fetishize conflict, and we forget the human toll,” he contended. “It's why you see so many issues with homeless veterans when we live in a society that has so much to give. To be able to be a part of a movie where the humanity of the people involved is not just recognized, but is the highlighting point of the story is it's important, it's worthwhile, and it makes this project very special.”

While fighting, Brown’s aircraft was shot down by Chinese infantry, landing him in deep snow behind enemy lines. Despite the advice of those around him, Hudner intentionally crash-landed his plane next to Brown’s, risking his own life to save his friend. 

Despite his best efforts, Hudner was unable to save Brown, and a navy helicopter was forced to take Hudner away, leaving behind Brown’s body. Neither Brown’s body or his airplane were ever recovered, despite Hudner’s efforts to bring them home. 

The cast hopes that “Devotion” will re-ignite efforts to bring Brown home and honors members of the military, reminding them that the sacrifices they and their family members make are not forgotten.

“We see you, we honor you, and we thank you,” Sadoski said. “We see you as people, not just as your job, and understand the service and the sacrifice, and what it meant for the Brown family to have to say goodbye to Jesse and what it means … for us to try to get him back … Jesse has not been repatriated. So what it means for us as a society to continue to work to bring Jesse home.”

“And if the film does that, then that’s enough for us to be proud of,” Jonas added.

​​“Devotion” hits theaters Nov 23. 

Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: leah.klett@christianpost.com

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