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Review | ‘Devotion’: aviator drama from the Korean War has a slow start


StarSolidStarSolidStarHalfStarOutline(2.5 stars)

The final act of ‘Devotion’, set during the early months of the Korean War, is unexpectedly moving. The poignancy comes as a surprise because most of the previous scenes are weak and prosaic. This is a fighter pilot drama that takes over 90 minutes to get up to emotional speed.

Inspired by a true story, according to the credits, “Devotion” charts the slowly developing bond between Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors), the first black aviator to complete U.S. Navy training, and his white cohort Tom Hudner (Glen Powell, whose one of the film’s executive producers). According to Jake Crane and Jonathan AH Stewart’s script, which is based on Adam Makos’ 2017 book of the same name, Hudner is Brown’s most accepting colleague. In the end, the two are inseparable when one of them crashes and the other attempts a rescue that must be done quickly or not at all.

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The other airmen (including one played by pop star Joe Jonas) aren’t particularly inhospitable, or even distinguishable. Most of the racial animosity comes from outside the unit – or from Jesse himself. In one of the few quirky details of this dour film, the aviator winds himself up to fly by staring into a mirror while reciting insults directed at him in the past. These motivational sessions provide Majors with the most intense moments of his accepted role.

Director JD Dillard, whose father was the second black pilot to join the Navy’s Blue Angels, wisely decided to use real planes for as much action as possible. “Devotion” does feature computer effects, but makes convincing use of vintage aircraft, including the Vought F4U Corsair flown by Jesse and Tom. (The plane was notorious as a “widow maker” because it had a large engine that obscured the pilot’s view.) The aerial action was expertly choreographed by Kevin LaRosa, who did the same for “Top Gun: Maverick” (which Powell co-starred in). ).

The filmmakers show less finesse with the real-life scenario, which cannot be molded into a well-formed story. The Korean War doesn’t begin until halfway through the movie, and the conflict offers only two major action sequences. The other scene that is meant to be exciting is a fatal accident for a minor character; it’s an incident that, like much of the film, is undermined by predictability.

The story opens on a base in Rhode Island, where it lingers through the introduction of Jesse’s wife, Daisy Brown (Christina Jackson), and toddler daughter. The pilots then take off on an aircraft carrier for the Mediterranean Sea, where the incongruous climax is a meeting ashore with actress Elizabeth Taylor (Serinda Swan). Tom is a graduate of the Naval Academy, but on the French Riviera, Jesse proves, improbably, the more worldly of the two.

Jesse only speaks a few sentences of French, but it’s a nice break from the rest of the dialogue, which is often stilted and sometimes foreshadowed with a sledgehammer. If an American soldier on the ground exclaims, “Dear God, send us some angels,” chances are that American planes will arrive the very next moment. The plane chases the GI’s informal prayer as reliably as the violins follow the piano in Chanda Dancy’s viscous score.

The film’s climax is less expected and a bit messier than the other episodes. It is powerful because it effectively evokes the chaos and cost of war. Most of the rest of “Devotion” just apes clunky old war movies.

PG-13. In theaters in the region. Contains foul language, some bloodless war violence, racial slurs and smoking. In English and a little French and Korean with subtitles. 138 minutes.

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