[Screen It]


(2022) (Jonathan Majors, Glen Powell) (PG-13)

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Drama: An early 1950s Navy aviator must contend with both racism and being shipped off to the budding war in Korea.

It's 1950 and Jesse Brown (JONATHAN MAJORS) is the only black aviator at a New Hampshire naval base. He's married to Daisy (CHRISTINA JACKSON) with whom he has a young daughter, while the rest of the pilots are single. That includes Tom Hudner (GLEN POWELL) who's the newest addition, a pilot who's bummed that WWII ended right before he graduated from flight school.

With war on the verge of breaking out in Korea, their aircraft carrier sets sail for that area, with the pilots having to contend with newly reconfigured Corsair fighter planes that are more powerful than before, but that the men have little experience with, including the near blind landing of them on a carrier. As they deal with that, Jesse must contend with subtle and overt racism.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

My dad was just a tad over fifteen when the Japanese navy attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor on that date that will live in infamy. Like most boys his age, as soon as he was old enough, he joined the military to help out in the war, but he didn't complete his training at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Fort Lauderdale until December 1945, a few months after WWII ended.

He served in the Navy for a few years after that, but beyond briefly mentioning seeing friends die trying to land on aircraft carriers in rough seas, he talked very little about his time, much like everyone else in the "greatest generation."

He's been gone for fifteen years now, so the chances of learning anything else are long gone, but I always wondered how he felt about missing actually being in the war. Did he feel like he was somehow a failure (due to timing) of not participating or was he happy to have avoided what likely could have meant his demise (and what would have been my and my sister's non-existence), what with being a tail gunner in TBF Avengers or Douglas SBD Dauntlesses in the skies over Japan?

All of that came to mind while watching "Devotion," a post WWII drama about Navy pilots where one of them, Lt. Tom Hudner (Glen Powell, once again in the military skies after playing the cocky Hangman character in "Top Gun: Maverick" this past summer) is an airman who similarly graduated too late and just missed out on serving in WWII. It's now five years later and he's the new hotshot aviator at the Quonset Point Naval Air Station in Quonset, Rhode Island.

Yet, this story -- penned by Jake Crane & Jonathan A.H. Stewart who have adapted Adam Makos' book of the same name -- isn't about his character. Instead, it's about another aviator who's already there, Ensign Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors), and has faced -- and continues to endure -- his own set of obstacles to serving his country along the way. And that's because he's his country's first black aviator, a feat few would have imagined during the preceding war or now in the lull before America's involvement in the next one, the Korean War.

Naturally, his societal defenses are set on high alert, not knowing if this new addition to their unit will be okay with the color of his skin, or if he'll be like others who can barely contain their racist disdain for him. He soon discovers Tom is a good guy, although he puts his flying prowess to the test with some "keep up with me if you can" flying, including over his own home where his wife, Daisy (Christina Jackson), tends to their young daughter and hopes every day that he comes home safely to her.

Naturally, even if you've never heard of the true story that director J.D. Dillard brings to cinematic life, there has to be more to the drama than just racial unrest, and thus the Korean War comes calling as the flyboys are shipped off to deal with the Soviets doing bad things.

Complicating matters is that Jesse, Tom, and the rest of their squadron haven't flown the newly upgraded Corsairs before, which means potential trouble not just landing on aircraft carriers without being able to see the runway, but also the potential of tangling with Russian MiG jets.

What follows are sequences of training, dealing with racism aboard the ship and even during shore leave in Cannes, and then the eventual missions that ultimately define the film's title. It's all done quite well, from recreating the military planes and vessels of the time to the wartime action, with the performances grounding all of that. It would have been interesting to see my dad's reaction to this offering (he was a huge stickler for realism in such war flicks), but mine without the in-person context is that it's both emotionally engaging and adrenaline fueled. And for that, "Devotion" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Posted November 23, 2022

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