You’d be forgiven for being surprised after seeing “Devotion” and realizing it is not, in fact, a military action movie.
The film, based on a true Korean War story written by Adam Makos, has all the makings of a war epic, including a few tense dogfight scenes sure to leave audience members sweating bullets.
Its story, however, centers not on the war itself, but on the unlikely friendship that develops between a swaggering Lt. Tom Hudner (played by Glen Powell), and the Navy’s first Black aviator, Ensign Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors).
The pacing of the movie is, at times, slow, dramatic, and a little dark. In 1950, racial tension is set against a backdrop of a post-World-War-II America that is reforming its identity. It is also home to a majority who have no interest in another global conflict.
Alas, the pair become eventual heroes in the nation’s “Forgotten War,” serving as a stunning example of what anti-prejudice might have looked like well before the Civil Rights movement.
Much of the exclusion felt by Brown in the film is overt. Racism is an ever-present character in this story, shown mostly through a lens of Brown’s poor treatment at the hands of civilians. This, despite his status as a college-educated pilot in the U.S. Navy.
In one scene, for example, Brown is nearly barred from a casino on the French Riviera, where he must prove he speaks the language and had received a formal invitation by actress Elizabeth Taylor.
And while some of these scenes may seem like unnecessary diversions from the larger story, they allow more time to explore the ways Brown surprised Hudner, further earning his respect both as a pilot and person.
Ultimately, Brown’s relationship with Hudner and the squadron at-large proved what many familiar with the military know — there is profound equality among the troops, especially amid dire circumstances. The implicit message is that those you fight or fly beside are the same as you, no matter how they look or where they come from.
Unfortunately, the slow spark of mutual respect that kindled the relationship between Brown and Hudner is snuffed out before it ever truly gets the chance to burn.
Brown’s Corsair goes down after the squadron’s Dec. 4 mission to the Chosin Reservoir. Hudner, proving the aptness of the movie’s title, decides he can’t leave his wingman behind and crashes his own aircraft in a reckless but valiant rescue effort. Brown, trapped, doesn’t make it out but tells Hudner to relay a message of love to his wife.
Powell and Majors are powerhouses throughout this at-times crawling story, painting the picture of two very different people with polar opposite backgrounds who form an unlikely bond that extends well beyond death.
In the aftermath, Hudner remained devoted to two things: Brown’s beloved Daisy and their daughter Pamela, and the recovery of his remains, which he fought to bring back from Korea until his death in 2017.
“Devotion” lands in theaters Nov. 23.
Originally published by Military Times, our sister publication.