Devotion” is a story about a war, but it is not only about the Korean War. It is a story of a different type of war, and it is a War against personal bias and hatred. It is about a War against people of a different skin shade. There is a War going on, both in the Korean peninsula, and in people’s hearts. Korea ended with a stalemate, so what about the War against Bigotry?
Jesse Brown (played by Jonathan Majors) is a Naval Aviator, who just happens to be Black. Back in 1949, this was a big deal since he was the first ‘colored’ Navy pilot since the desegregation occurred. Now Jesse is able to fly along with all the White members of his squadron. His many years of dealing with bigotry and hatred against him have strengthened his resolve to become the best.
Tom Hudner (played by Glen Powell) is a new member of squadron. He has transferred in the Rhode Island naval base, out from training in California. Tom is very friendly to all of the squad members, including Jesse. Yet Jesse remains quiet and reserved, not letting anyone know how he feels about ‘the new guy’.
The squad commander, Dick Cevoli (played by Thomas Sadoski), decides to put Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner together as a pilot and wingman. That way, he can find out how well these two can work together. They wind up making a pretty good team, so they stick together. Jesse even invites Tom over to his house. Tom is able to meet Jesse’s wife – Daisy (played by Christina Jackson), and his little daughter.
The Naval squadron is looking for a way to prove they are excellent airman and fighters. But, like Tom Hudner says, World War II ended just months before he graduated from the Naval Academy. Not that any of them are looking to get into combat, it sure would be nice to get some more experience. The Commander Cevoli tells them that the squad has been upgraded in what they will fly.
Gone will be the older ‘Bearcat’ models, and they will now have to get used to flying the new powerful Corsair planes. They handle better, and are much faster and more nimble. But the front end engine and propeller sticks out much farther. That makes landing these planes on an aircraft carrier just a bit harder to do.
They head out for practice landing on the USS Layton. Tom Hudner has some perfect landings. Jesse makes a few mistakes at first, but he is able to land and get certified for the flight deck. The whole squad is assigned to the Layton. They take off to first go to Europe. Jesse tells Daisy that he will make it back to her and their little girl.
Daisy makes Tom Hudner promise, that in any case and in any situation — just be there for Jesse. Of course, he agrees. Soon, they are headed off to Europe to be part of a naval flotilla. They have an incident on the Layton, in which one of the men in the squad is running some tests out on a plane, but there is crash landing in the ocean. They are not yet in any battle, and they still have lost a friend.
In a brief shore leave time, the guys in the squad are able to visit Cannes. It is a place of fine beaches and refined hotels. Jesse Brown happens to meet a famous movie star at the beach. It is Elizabeth Taylor (played by Serinda Swan). She is impressed with the first ‘colored’ naval aviator. She invites Jesse and the rest of them to meet her at a casino. The boys have some grumbling with a few Marines who are there, also on leave. It later turns out to be a brawl in the streets. But it is nothing like the real fighting that is to come…
Commander Cevoli tells the squad that the situation has changed. It is now 1950, and the North Korean army has swept across the border into South Korea. The Chinese Army is supporting the North Korea side, and any tussle with American forces against the China troops could be a disaster. They have immediate orders to deploy to Korean peninsula, and to do whatever needs to be done. But they must bring everyone home, and make no mistakes.
The first mission over Korea takes the squad over some bridges connecting North Korea to the military supplies that are coming in from China. If they can take out those bridges, then it would greatly slow the amount of new troops and hardware that are coming from China. But the problem is there are a lot of anti-aircraft guns on both sides of the river.
The naval fighters are allowed to take out the guns shooting at them. But they can only shoot at the North Korean side. But if they hit the China side, and take out Chinese military, it could cause an incident that would bring World War Three. All of the pilots take a run to destroy the bridges. They silence the North Korea section of AA fire.
But they start to take fire from the China side. They are leaving, but Jesse goes back for one more shot at the bridge. He is taking a lot of fire, but he manages to get one more bomb and the bridge is destroyed. But Jesse had disobeyed commands to leave at the same time as the squad; and later that comes back to haunt him.
There is another incident where the fighter pilots can be helpful. There are Marines down trapped at a place being overrun by North Korean soldiers. At the Chosin Reservoir, the soldiers are sitting ducks, unless they can get some air support. The squad members fly in low and take out many of the enemy. But flying low makes them exposed to attack. Jesse’s plane is hit and he is in trouble. Tom Hudner will not leave his friend behind.
“Devotion” is a very inspirational story of people caught up in deadly circumstances. The first Black fighter pilot in the Navy went through very difficult times. Jonathan Majors plays Jesse with a strong emotional focus. Jesse would face the mirror and say all of the negative, hateful things that people would say to him. That was a way for him to reach down and become tougher. Glen Powell, who plays Tom, is equally good, even without the extra dramatic flair.
“Devotion” takes the true incidents of the ‘forgotten war’ in Korea, and shows that battles can be fought on the ground, in the air, and in men’s hearts…
Directed by: J. D. Dillard
Screenplay by: Jake Crane, Jonathan Stewart
Based on: “Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice” 2017 novel by Adam Makos
Starring: Jonathan Majors, Glen Powell
Cinematography: Erik Messerschmidt
Edited by: Billy Fox
Music by: Chanda Dancy
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Releasing
Release date: November 23, 2022
Length: 138 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13 for strong language, some war action/violence, and smoking
Genre: War Drama