That it was made with some sense of care for the real-life figures at its center makes it slightly more admirable than other movies of its type. So also does the welcome depth that Majors, the script and director J.D. Dillard give Brown. But outside that sense of commitment, Devotion is an unremarkable experience.
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This drama is about a real war, actual people, and things that matter. While it probably won’t make a billion dollars at the box office, for my money, a true story well told in a heartfelt way is invaluable and important.
Training its crosshair on the ingrained prejudice of the military and the question of how well-meaning white allies can best support its undoing, the film compensates for relatively middling action set pieces with a stolid maturity.
Devotion is far more interested in what's happening on earth rather than in the sky. It's a character drama with occasional bursts of action, and while there's certainly nothing wrong with that, the film ends up rather muddled. You can see the bones of something greater here, and Dillard remains a filmmaker worth paying attention to.
Devotion can be stiff and hackneyed at the best of times — it’s nothing if not a war movie that has seen too many other war movies — but it lifts a few inches off the ground whenever it locks in on the loneliness that Brown must have felt as he flew towards an aircraft carrier whose landing signal officer may have wanted him to crash, or soared in formation with people who might have been happy to shoot him down.
The film comes to life when Majors and Powell are in the air. Dillard and cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt make the sky feel vast and alive, threatening to swallow up Jesse and Tom at any moment. Along with the film’s thrilling flight scenes, Majors is the biggest draw of Devotion, showcasing his distinctly masculine vulnerability to portray a man as strong as he is silent.
Strip away the IMAX scope, the booming score and the flyboy swagger, however, and all that remains is a hollow shell of bland, beaten-down war movie tropes that leave Jonathan Majors to effectively fend for himself with his deeply-rooted lead portrayal of the first Black aviator in Navy history.
Director JD Dillard dazzles with see-it-in-Imax airborne sequences, but the meat of the film focuses on the friendship between Brown (“Da 5 Bloods” star Jonathan Majors) and his white wingman, played by Glen Powell, the “Hidden Figures” actor who most recently appeared in “Top Gun: Maverick.”