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'Devotion' film review: Naval war drama is one of 2022's most important films

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

“Devotion,” which brings to the big screen the story of Jesse Brown, the first African American to complete Navy flight training, and his friend and wingman Thomas Hudner, is easily one of the most important films of 2022.

Directed by J.D. Dillard, “Devotion” stars Jonathan Majors as Brown, with Glen Powell (who also executive produces) playing Hudner. Based on the book by Adam Makos, the film centers on the deep friendship between the two men during the Korean War, also known as American’s “Forgotten War.” The film also stars Christina Jackson, Joe Jonas, Nick Hargrove, Spencer Neville and Thomas Sadoski

“Devotion” opens at Quonset Point Air Base in Rhode Island in 1950, where Brown is serving as a naval pilot at the outset of the Korean War. During the day, he trains with his squadron, including his supportive wingman, Tom Hudner. While with his squadron, Brown is reserved and stoic, grappling with the racism he routinely experiences; his commanding officer refused to pin his lapel wings at graduation.

But in the evenings, when Brown returns home to his wife, Daisy, and their toddler daughter, Pamela, his demeanor shifts: It’s clear he’s a devoted husband, and it’s his family that keeps him grounded amid the rigidness of the military. 

Despite his reservations, Brown slowly builds a friendship with Hudner, who is eager to understand his background and experience. Hudner is eager to defend his wingman, throwing a punch or engaging in a war of words to come to his defense. Brown is quick to let Hudner know he doesn’t want or need his misguided help: “I can fight my own fights. Been doing it for a long time,” he says.

The pace of the film picks up with the sudden onset of the Korean War, and Hudner, Brown and their fellow aviators embark on a risky mission to defend their country. When Brown’s plane crash lands in enemy territory, Hudner risks his life in an attempt to save his friend. 

Rated PG-13 for violence and some language, including some strong profanity, “Devotion” is not a faith-based movie. The film examines the complexities Brown experiences as a black man in the Navy as he’s faced with both subtle and blatant racism. In several heartbreaking scenes, Brown looks at his reflection in the mirror and repeats every slur or taunt he’s heard as a member of the Navy to push himself to succeed.

Yet, the film highlights the biblical themes of sacrificial love, honor and integrity, examining what the word “devotion” truly means. Faith is also subtly shown throughout the film. Brown relies on his faith to sustain him through difficult times throughout the film — the real-life Jesse Brown was a devoted Christian — and several characters are shown praying. 

With spectacular aerial footage and suspenseful battle scenes, “Devotion” has all the flashiness of a “war movie” — yet focuses more on the humanity of its subjects instead of leaning into the tropes of a war drama. At the heart of the film are the interpersonal relationships shared between Brown, Hudner and their fellow naval officers.

“Devotion” not only highlights the sacrifices of service members, it also highlights the difficulties their family members face too. Some of the film’s most tender scenes are set in the Brown’s home, where Jesse, Daisy and their daughter engage in playful banter. Daisy operates as Jesse’s biggest supporter while he, in turn, cherishes and respects her. The script features Brown’s real-life letters to his wife, which give viewers an intimate look at the tender relationship the two shared.

The film treats its subject matter with respect and care; director J.D. Dillard’s own father was the second black pilot to join the Navy’s Blue Angels, and the film seeks to honor the sacrifice of our nation’s military, both past and present. It’s a touching and much-needed homage to one of the most powerful stories in naval history.

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

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