Based on Adam Makos 2015 book, Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice, this film tells the thrilling and tragic story of Jesse Brown, the first African-American aviator to complete the basic flight training program of the U.S. Navy.
The film is set in 1950. Pilots who graduated just as World War II drew to a close are doing “busy work,” bemoaning the fact that the have not seen any action. There is, however a new conflict looming on the horizon in Korea. The aircraft carrier, USS Leyte, where Brown (Jonathan Majors), is assigned to Fighter Squadron 32 (VF-32), is ordered from the Mediterranean Sea, where it is stationed, to Korea.
Brown and his comrades missions include disrupting communication lines, bombing military installations and providing air support to the 15,000 US troops who are surrounded by more than 100,000 Chinese soldiers in the Chosin Reservoir.
After flying many successful missions, Brown’s Corsair is brought down on a lonely mountaintop. He is unable to leave his burning plane as his leg is trapped. Despite his wingman, Tom Hudner’s (Glen Powell) best efforts including crashing his own plane and attacking Brown’s craft with an axe for 45 minutes in the growing dark and cold, he is unable to get Brown free.
The approaching night and the fear of the rescue chopper being captured forces Hudner to leave the fading Brown behind. To ensure the planes do not fall into enemy hands, both planes are napalmed.
Later, when receiving his Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman (Bill Martin Williams), Hudner tells Brown’s widow, (Christina Jackson) of his last words, “Tell Daisy I love her”. The movie ends with details of Hudner’s efforts to bring Brown’s remains back home amidst a montage of photographs showing the continuing friendship between the Hudners and Browns.
Devotion is straight as an arrow in its intent. There is no attempt at overt sentimentality or hagiography. When Brown tells Hudner he does not need anyone to fight his battles, you know where it is coming from, as it surely would have been a tough road traversed by the poor Black boy from Mississippi with a fascination for flying, to break into and succeed in the all-white world of aviation.
That Brown is not above having fun is revealed when he speaks flawless French to uppity doorman at a casino at Cannes, where the aviators are invited by film star Elizabeth Taylor (Serinda Swan). The camaraderie and respect between the airmen is subtly brought out without resorting to broad bromance.
With the services of Top Gun: Maverick’s aerial stunt coordinator, Kevin LaRosa, the air battles are thrilling, though not in the ‘you take my breath away’ exhilaration of the other film. The dog fights in Devotion give off a visceral feel of being there in the cockpit with Brown and his fellow fly boys.
The cast is singularly good with Jonathan Majors (Tic from Lovecraft Country) exceptionally portraying the dignity, resolve and passion that must have powered Brown’s life.
Friendship, courage under fire, single-minded purpose, and above all love makes Devotion an inspiration-fueled excursion where the sky is the limit.
Devotion is currently running in theatres