Devotion (2022) Review
JUST BE MY WINGMAN!
When the rising conflicts of World War II ended, another round of warring strife began to ensue in Korea, which pulled the forces of the United States / United Nations against North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union in series of battles during a three-year duration of the fight. Known throughout history as the Korean War, yet nicknamed as “The Forgotten War”, for it being sandwiched between World War II and the Vietnam War, this particular war is to be considered the most destructive conflict of the modern era, with over three million war fatalities (collectively) as well as a large proportional civilian death than both the two major war in between this fight. In addition, this conflict became a war or attrition, with no clear winner at the end of the disagreement. Given the dynamics of the historical impact of this particular turmoil, Hollywood (and international filmmakers) has brought their cinematic light to this “Forgotten War’ depiction, with such releases as 1951’s The Steel Helmet, 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate, 2004’s Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War, 1970’s M*A*S*H, 1977’s MacArthur, 2011’s The Front Line, just to name a few. Now, Sony / Columbia Pictures and director J.D. Dillard present the latest film to be tackle the Korean “Forgotten War” quarrel with the feature titled Devotion, based on 2015 book “Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice” by Adam Markos. Does this picture find merit within its tale of heroics and friendship in war or is it too much of a shallow “Hollywood” endeavor to honor its subject matter in a meaningful way?
Set in early 1950s, tensions in Korea are swiftly gearing up towards war, inspiring the United States to find their way into the conflict. Jesse L. Brown (Jonathan Majors) is a dedicated and skilled Naval fighter pilot, but is forced to deal with issues of constant racism and self-doubt as an African American in a predominately white military. With the “big show” looming and on everyone’s mind, Jesse is soon paired up with other pilots, commencing training on aircraft carriers, finding a different connection with new arrival pilot Tom Hudner (Glen Powell). Jesse hopes to be one of the airmen in the coming war, but his position as the first black man to achieve that said position makes him a target for some, joining his regular dose of discrimination and resentment, which Tom observes carefully, getting to understand his wingman a bit better. While trying to save a family man to his wife, Daisy (Christina Jackson), and his young daughter, duty stoon takes Jesse to Korea, joining Tom as they table to disrupt the North Korea, Chinese, and Russian interests in the area. Through turbulent times of war and wrapped up in his doubt in measuring his own worthy, Jesse pushes himself to the limit to serve his country, with Tom trying to manage to be his more than just a wingman…..but a brother-in-arms to his fellow pilot.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Like the common nickname for the Korean War, this so-called “Forgotten War” is somewhat a forgotten topic to examine in the movie industry, especially with so many studios and filmmakers choosing to represent and bring to “movie light” more popular and / or well-known wartime endeavors, with such depictions easily found in World War II or even present-day war. With so much detail in substance, cultural understanding, a political nation viewpoint, one can easily surmise why studios would want to focus their attention on such war drama narratives, especially since more “untold stories” are coming to light each year. Thus, the Korean War is sometimes left untouched and unmentioned, forgotten by history and film makers / studios in historical wartime drama endeavors. That being said, there are a few out there that do make their way light, yet not as many as there should be. Of course, motion pictures like The Manchurian Candidate and M*A*S*H are perhaps the best example (from Hollywood), while Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (from what I heard) is a pretty good one from the international foreign language movie. In the end, while not the most “cinematic” and / or “popular” war to examine and bring underneath a filmmaker’s lens, movies about the Korean War still manage to be just as palpable, engaging, and horrific as the ones from in both World Wars and all the way up to modern-day warfare theatrical endeavors.
This brings me back to talking about Devotion, a 2022 biographical war drama feature and the latest film that depict the Korean War. While I have been “out of the loop” of working in a bookstore, I do recall seeing Adam Markos’s book “Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice” in the history section, with customer looking at it / buying every now and again. It did look interesting to me, but I never had the chance to actually pick it up and read it. Flash forward to this year and that particular memory of Markos’s war history book began to resurface in my mind when I remember hearing about a movie titled Devotion, which was to base off of said author’s work. I think my first introduction to the movie itself was when I first saw the film’s movie trailer, which did look quite promising. From the preview alone, it looked quite appealing sense it looked it was going set during the Korean War (something that Hollywood doesn’t usually cover as much) and I did like the film’s two leading men (Powell and Majors). So, I was quite interested to see Devotion when it was set to be released on November 23rd, 2022, of which I actually did see a day after its initial release in theaters with my parents (they do like historical war dramas). Unfortunately, due to my busy work schedule and myself playing “catch up” on some other delayed movie reviews, I had to push back writing my review for this movie. Now, after plowing through some of the others, I’m finally ready to share my personal thoughts on Devotion. And what did I think of it? Well, I actually liked it. Despite some unbalanced issues with the action and drama, Devotion still manages to be quite an accessible (and poignant) war drama that honors the two men (Brown and Hudner) and produces some meaningful context to their lives. It’s not the quintessential biographical war drama piece, but it’s quite the respectable and sincere feature that is quite the “crowd pleaser” looking for insight into two inspirational soldiers in America’s Forgotten War conflict.
Devotion is directed by J.D. Dillard, whose previous directorial works include several theatrical feature films such as Sleight, Sweetheart, and Mariah, and a handful of episodic endeavors from The Outsider, The Twilight Zone, Two Sentence Horror Stories. Given his previous background of past works, Dillard makes this particular project his biggest and most ambitious one to date, with Devotion offering him ample chance to show his skills in the director’s chair. On that front, I think that Dillard succeeds and brings a very intriguing and engaging narrative to the “movie landscape” table; approaching the source material with a sense of respect to the tale being told as well as heightening the narrative to be very cinematic for the feature’s framework. Naturally, Dillard isn’t just about bringing action thrills and bombastic nature of the feature’s more intense scenes (there are those in the movie and I’ll go into more detail below on that), but rather in a characterization of how the film’s main duo protagonists handle their own situations, regardless of if it is a personal dilemma or fighting on the aerial battlefield. Dillard definitely makes Devotion a respectable feature that honors Brown and Hudner and gives the movie enough time to understand their beliefs, motivation, and resolve as they face enemies both on and off the battlefield. Thus, there is plenty of dramatic heart in the feature and it is indeed a welcomed one for everyone to partake in, which (in turn) makes the movie have quite the easy and accessible presentation for viewers to digest, without getting distracted with superfluous nuances or unwanted distractions.
Of course, with the source material being based on a “true story”, Dillard and his team gives the feature the necessary lift to make the whole theatrical experience entertaining and heartfelt, with a lot of attention and detail focused on its characters. Naturally, the film’s action plays a part in the film, with Dillard handling the movie’s aerial action scenes quite well and presents them with a touch of cinematic blockbuster flourishes. Of course, these sequences don’t rival some other aerial dogfight combat such as Top Gun: Maverick or even WWII action drama Midway, but what’s presented definitely works and gives plenty of aerial frivolities and sweeping dramatics during these portions. This brings back to the point of presenting a narrative within America’s “Forgotten War”, which (in of itself) is pretty interesting to see in this particular day and age of cinematic representation. As I mentioned above, tales of the Korean War usually don’t find their way to mainstream films, so it’s kind of refreshing to see a story that uses the backdrop of this period of time (during the war and on the home front) being showcased. This, of course, includes the battlefield and war-torn areas of on (and above) Korea, but also in the United States, with such aerial military ships and airbases as well as suburbia in circa 1950s. In the end, while there might be a few faults within the undertaking, Devotion still manages to rise above those remarks with such a moving (and caring) story that delivers a sincere gesture of good faith to both its subject matter as well as presenting in solid historical war drama in the process.
For it’s presentation, Devotion hits every mark and checks every box in help create such a solid background viewing experience. Of course, I don’t expect this feature to be nominated for any type of awards in these categories. That being said, what’s presented certainly meets the film’s industry standards of a modern movie of late and that’s not really a bad thing, with the film’s various background players lend their expertise in bringing to life this particular story. Naturally, the project is centered around a military theme narrative, which the movie appropriately fixes on throughout a large percentage of the movie’s runtime. That being said, Devotion is also considered a period piece to some degree and captures the 1950 era setting beautifully. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” team, including Danny Brown, Erik Louis Robert, and Jeremy Woolsey (art direction), Wynn Thomas (production design), Merissa Lombardo (set decorations), and Deidra Elizabeth Govan (costume designs) should be praised for their efforts in bringing this film’s world to life in such a believable way. In addition, the film’s cinematography work by Erik Messerschmidt also help elevate the film’s positive likeability and movie presentation, especially in several of the feature’s aerial action sequences, which are captured with such beautiful and volume. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Chanda Dancy, is actually pretty good and helps build upon the movie’s various scenes. Of course, it plays up the feature’s setting / time era (as does the presentation of Devotion), but also helps capture those poignant moments from character driven dialogue scenes to bombastic tension-filled sequences. All in all, a very good musical composition from Dancy.
Unfortunately, The Devotion, while insightful and respectful to its real-life account / source material, does have a few problems within its overall undertaking and execution that holds the feature back from reaching cinematic greatness. How so? Well, for starters, the balance of storytelling and action and how it all plays out. As mentioned above, the action scenes in the movie are pretty good and help build upon the narrative’s timeline era of America’s “Forgotten War”. That being said, the action is mostly set during the latter half of the feature, with more plot pointing and character development being presented beforehand and having a large emphasis that the action. Thus, the action in Devotion, while staged well with some realistic depiction and dynamic sequences of gunfights and military power. Is more backloaded in the film and is a bit in short supply. What’s presented works, but I kind of wanted to see something a bit more frontloaded with action like 2019’s Midway or more impactful / spectacle like in 2001’s Pearl Harbor.
In conjunction with that notion, the movie does have that unbalanced feeling in a few areas, especially in the first act, which (of course) is more set-up of the characters and of the development of the movie’s scenarios. I do get that the Dillard wants to focus on the dynamics of characters Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner (and the personal plights / situations that they face throughout), but the tendency to lean more towards story than action in a military action historical piece is a bit wonky in that storyboarding process than can sometime backfire a few times. This does play a part in Devotion’s likeability as viewers / moviegoers are looking for a bombardment of action rather than character drama. It was a bit disappointing a few times because I did expect to see more action than drama, but it didn’t completely derail my overall enjoyment of the movie. Still, for better or worse, the plotting of the narration of the feature is a bit unbalanced, with both Dillard as well as the film’s writers Jake Crane and Jonathan Stewart mapping out a proven story to tell (as seeing in Makos’s book on the subject matter). Still, it goes without saying that the screenplay for the feature is a bit clunky and fragmented in a few areas and could’ve easily be a better movie if the narrative path was a bit more focused on several key areas, including characters and storyline progression events. In addition to this notion, I felt that the movie was rushed in a few areas, with Dillard and his team (the writers) sort of “glossing over” certain sequences / segments as the movie briskly moves by several character development areas, including background stories, as well as certain moments of narrative progression. Again, what’s presented definitely works, but I would’ve liked to see Devotion have a better understand of its key players and the narrative it wants to tell in a more refined way.
Collectively, the cast in Devotion is pretty good, with the selected grouping of acting talents involved on this project bring the right amount of swagger nuances for the feature’s era setting as well as some dramatic poise for this motion picture endeavor. Thus, all the acting talents in the film are solid across the board, but the downside to all of that are some of their characterizations throughout the movie, with some being rather generic and stereotypical for the movie. Perhaps the best (and most memorable) performance in the film would have to be actor Jonathan Majors, who plays the lead protagonist role of Ensign Jesse Brown. Known for his roles in Lovecraft Country, White Boy Ricky, and Gully, Majors has started to become a more prominent actor and has begun starting to appear in more leading character roles in his career, with large blockbuster upcoming projects being Creed III and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. For this movie, Devotion is clearly a vehicle for Majors to prove his acting chops in the lead role and he does quite well from start to finish. Whether in the public eye amongst his fighter pilot peers or sharing an intimate moment with himself, every scene that he is given painstaking attention to Jesse’s life with realism and heartbreak. It’s quite the layer of a character and Majors handles that performance with grace, dignity, and great acting on his part. A viewer can easily sympathize with his character’s plight and inner turmoil of being an African American man during this time period and measuring his own self-worth in almost every scene that he’s in. There is no doubt about it that Dillard (and his team) want to pay homage to Jesse’s life in the movie and they do so immensely, with Majors’s hard-hitting performance capturing the man with such vigor and resilience, which culminates in a memorable performance.
Behind Majors, actor Glen Powell does a great job in the film’s second lead role character of Tom Hudner, naval Air Force pilot and Jesse Brown’s wingman. Known for his roles in Scream Queens, Hidden Figures, and Top Gun: Maverick, Powell has certainly became a more prominent star of late, especially after the success the Top Gun sequel, which proved that the actor can handle being a flying ace in a military action drama. Thus, translating a cinematic representation of real-life Air Force pilot Tom Hudner, Powell embodies the “flying ace” mantra and swagger of that era and easily slides into the character role with great theatrical effectiveness. Cool under pressure and confidant in almost every scene, Powell fits perfect in brings such a character to life and makes for a compelling portrayal of a real-life person. Plus, he is a great foil to Major’s Jesse, with the pair having great screen chemistry with each other, with Dillard focusing on their pairing throughout Devotion and makes for some memorable moments amongst the two actors. The downside, however, is that the movie doesn’t shy away from delving a lot into Hudner’s mindset. Sure, he is there and plays a major part in the feature’s narrative, but Dillard and his team focus a lot more attention Major’s Jesse in his personal struggles and triumphs. Thus, Hudner does take a backseat a few times, including his backstory that is sort of “glossed over” really quickly, but Powell certainly helps elevate those setbacks in the character and makes for a compelling on-screen representation of Tom.
Perhaps the only stand out supporting character in the movie would have to be Daisy Brown, Jesse’s wife and who is played by actress Christina Jackson (Outsiders and The Night House). While the character doesn’t break the suppose “mold” of the loving / concerned wife in the movie’s narrative, Jackson still manages to help elevate the character enough to make an impact on the story and whenever she’s on-screen. Of course, it also helps that she shares some good on-screen chemistry with Majors’s Jesse, which helps us (the viewer) buy into their endearing husband / wife relationship. The rest of the cast, including actor Thomas Sadoski (The Newsroom and Life in Pieces) as Dick Cevoli, actor Daren Kagasoff (The Secret Life of an American Teenager and Ouija) as Bill Koenig, musician / actor Joe Jonas (Camp Rock and Jonas) as Marty Goode, actor Spencer Neville (Days of Our Lives and AmeriGedden) as Bo Lavery, actor Nick Hargrove (Counterpart and Charmed) as Carol Mohring, Boone Platt (Black Lightning and They/Them) as Buddy Gill, actor Dean Denton (The Highwaymen and American Underdog) as USS Leyte Captain T.U. Sisson, actor Thad Luckinbill (12 Strong and The Good Lie) as Peters, actor Joseph Cross (Lincoln and Flags of Our Fathers) as Charlie Ward, actress Serinda Swan (Inhumans and Ballers) as Elizabeth Taylor, and actor Bill Martin Williams (Blood Brother and Days of Daisy) as US President Harry S. Truman, are delegated to supporting players in the movie. Of course, some of these characters have larger screen time than others (some only having one or two scenes in Devotion), with most of these characters only having one or two personality traits throughout the movie. Thus, the actual characterizations of them are a bit broad…to say the least and not as dynamic as they could’ve been. That being said, all of these characters are well-represented by the acting talents.
Facing uncertainty and heading into the skies above enemy territory, aerial ace pilots Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner find truth in adversary in both each other and from outside forces in the movie Devotion. Director J.D. Dillard’s latest film takes to the skies and into the lives of two men, who learn the importance of trust and honor in serving their country during the Korean War, challenging their bravado and personal struggles along the way. While the film does struggle a few times in being a bit unbalanced at times, especially with a lot of action being pushed to the latter half, as well as a few areas of story substance, the movie still comes out on top, especially with Dillard’s respect for Markos’s material, a wholesome tale to be told, a great presentation, including a moving score, and solid performances from the cast across the board, with such notable portrayals from Majors and Powell. Personally, I liked this movie. Yes, it does have a few problems in trying to balance its action and character drama, with some points that doesn’t exactly stick their landing, but certainly soars within the many different filmmaking facets throughout the movie to make it an enjoyable and meaningful military drama feature. Thus, my recommendation for this movie would be a solid “recommended” as it will different please a lot of viewers who watch, who will find the movie’s messages, themes, and honorable gesture toward Brown and Hudner’s impact on this unpredictable war (both on the home front and in the aerial battlefield). In the end, while not exactly the most memorable wartime drama feature film endeavor, Devotion still stands tall and proud within its cinematic light entertainment and engaging, finding to be a character study of honor and sacrifice in rather “forgotten” time within “forgotten war in history.
4.1 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: November 23rd, 2022
Reviewed On: February 18th, 2023
Devotion is 138 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for strong language, some war action/violence, and smoking