It’s an inspiring story treated with profound humility and unemotional steadfastness but the by-the-numbers retelling makes it feel rather sedentary while seemingly lacking in enlivening beats.
A still from the movie, 'Devotion' (Pic courtesy: Twitter)
Cast: Jonathan Majors, Glen Powell, Serinda Swan, Thomas Sadoski, Joseph Cross, Joe Jonas
Director: J.D. Dillard
Runtime: 139 mins
This film is neither ‘Top Gun’ nor its sequel ‘Maverick,’ though it traverses a similar path about naval aviators getting war-fit through training tough. This biopic, based on real-life experience, adapted from Adam Makos’ book Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice, tells a civil rights story about Jesse Brown who held the distinction of being the first Black aviator to complete the navy’s flight training program, serving in the Korean war with Hudner as his trusty wingman. Director JD Dillard’s screen dramatization of the decorated fly boys belonging to the Fighting 32nd squadron and their time in uniform does not have the jaunty daredevilry that made ‘Top Gun’ and the sequel ‘Maverick’ so thrilling. The superficial similarities to aerial dogfighting notwithstanding, there’s not much that’s compelling save for the emotional connection that defines the developing bond between the two central flyboys.
JD Dillard polishes the human elements with calmness and sincerity while focusing his mite on the ingrained prejudice of the military. It’s an inspiring story treated with profound humility and unemotional steadfastness but the by-the-numbers retelling makes it feel rather sedentary while seemingly lacking in enlivening beats.
Lnt Hudner (Glen Powell who was also seen in the Top Gun sequel, Maverick), and Ensign Brown (Jonathan Major), don't become fast friends the minute they set eyes on each other. The tentativeness in their bonding feels rather laborious even though the difference in their races looms over every scene they share.
Brown wants to be treated like everyone else but discrimination is his steady bedfellow and even though he desists from challenging the status quo, we see him expressing his anguish in his more intimate moments. The budding friendship between Hudner and Brown is the film’s mainstay and the Korean war engagement feels almost like an after-thought. Ultimately, the posthumous tribute to a pioneering African American hero also becomes a showcase of Hudner’s gradual enlightenment about being there for his friend in the most challenging of circumstances.
The film relies majorly on sturdy performances from Majors and Powell, both highly gravitating and note-perfect in their effort to ‘be’ rather than ‘showboat.’ While Majors is appropriately stoic and repressed, Powell becomes his counter-point as preppy and earnestly engaging. That in fact, gives the emotional one-on-one conversations between Majors and Powell a great deal of heft. The pacing though is so deliberate that the blend of powerful performances and stunning visuals fails to add up to compelling thrills.