At first, it seems extremely unfortunate that Devotion is released in the shadow of Top Gun: MaverickAbsolute domination of the 2022 box office. Devotion is another movie about elite naval pilots, featuring training sequences, practical effects galore, and a climactic snow rescue. He even co-stars with Glen Powell, who plays DissidentThe mocking and villainous ace Hangman. So it’s easy to imagine the cinematic story of real-life pilot Jesse Brown (the MCU’s Kang, Jonathan Majors) being overshadowed by superpowered nostalgia for Tom Cruise returning to one of his most well-known roles, especially given that DevotionThe Korean War-era hardware isn’t nearly as powerful as the jets in this year’s biggest hit.
On the other hand, Top Gun: Maverick has achieved a level of success so rarefied that it could create an appetite for similar material, rather than make another fighter pilot image pale in comparison. if you call Devotion an unofficial top gun prequel seems too diminishing, try this: in some ways, it’s a finer, more poignant experience than Cruise’s grudge-turned-victory lap.
Devotion takes place in 1950, at the start of the Korean War, sometimes referred to as the “forgotten” war due to the lack of attention it received compared to World War II or the subsequent conflict in Vietnam. Devotion Pilots Tom Hudner (Powell) and Jesse Brown (Majors) are members of the Silent Generation, more spiritual than technical: Born at the end of the Great Generation that left for World War II, both enter the field just as that war It is ending. They are eager to serve, but both understand the gravity of the duties they have assumed.
This is especially true of Jesse, the first black pilot to complete the US Navy training program. His wife, Daisy (Christina Jackson, who plays a woman who in this narrative might as well be called Worried Supportive), she is waiting at home with her young son. Assigned to work with Tom, Jesse is cautious at first; some of the best moments in the film occur during breaks where Jesse clearly decides what and how much to say to his colleagues. He’s too proud for submission but too controlled for physical confrontation, and the film is nuanced in acknowledging how Tom’s straight decency doesn’t necessarily give him a complex understanding of the racial dynamics at play. His efforts to help his new wingman are not always welcome. His character arc deals with his tacit understanding that he is not, in fact, going to serve as Jesse’s designated white savior.
Nothing especially seismic or unpredictable happens for most of Devotion. Tom and Jesse become closer, although they are not inseparable. His squad trains and then embarks as the Korean conflict escalates. The only other character who makes much of an impression is the squadron’s commanding officer, Dick Cevoli (Thomas Sadoski), who at one point speaks directly to Tom about a lifetime’s worth of “showing up,” rather than some flashy heroism. .
However, the film’s combination of squareness and relative understatement, courtesy of director JD Dillard (tricks), builds up a silent power. Not everyone grew up idolizing Tom Cruise’s smug Maverick, and this is a naval aviator movie without much of a need for speed. Consequently, the aerial combat is not as exciting as similar material in Dissident. But it looks convincing, and there’s something satisfying about how it emphasizes precision over power. Throughout the film, Dillard and Majors find grace notes, like the moment Dillard’s camera remains fixed on the nose of a grounded plane while Jesse orients himself, or the powerful look at Jesse’s pre-flight ritual. He looks at himself in the mirror, rattling off every nasty layoff he’s ever had, and Dillard films this so Majors looks directly into the camera, torturing himself and steeling himself at the same time.
It’s far more powerful than the film’s occasional attempts to insert bits of contemporary vernacular into the proceedings, the most striking of which has a black military man approach Jesse on behalf of a group working on the aircraft carrier and tell him says, “We see you.” At least the movie stops before someone tells Tom to check his privilege. This works best when the movie doesn’t recast the conflicts in more modern terms.
Devotion it never feels like a textbook, history or sociology, because Dillard displays an impressive mastery of the material. With the help of cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, he gives the film’s visual tone a muted, dark quality, mitigating the rah-rah elements inherent in a film depicting military conflict out of context. This movie isn’t a particularly astute portrayal of war, but it deftly depicts sacrifice, something ultimately missing from the movie star restoration. Top Gun: Maverick. Comparing the two movies isn’t especially fair, but it’s worth noting that this smaller production is doing more with less.
Devotion debuts in theaters on November 23.
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