While Top Gun: Maverick has been enjoying a warm reception from audiences and awards bodies alike, another film about daring pilots is flying around in theaters. Based on the 2015 nonfiction book Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice by Adam Makos, Devotion is about a powerful friendship between two Navy pilots during the Korean War. One of them is Jonathan Majors, the only Black member of the unit. In the film’s other Top Gun: Maverick connection, the other one is played by Glen Powell, who portrays Hangman in the present-day film.
Devotion opens on Tom Hudner (Glen Powell) arriving to join Fighter Squadron 32, which already includes Jesse Brown (Majors), who faces routine racism from his fellow Navy officers and the neighbors who believe that his mere existence is stirring up trouble…
Hudner and Brown strike up a tentative friendship and are soon deployed aboard the USS Leyte, which takes them to the border of China and North Korea to help fight for South Korea. Their mastery of their F4U Corsair planes has been proven, but fighting in active combat is a new experience that adds its own challenges.
Devotion works best when it emphasizes the time period and the way in which Brown moves through it. He is used to demeaning treatment, and notes at one point that he was required to repeat a flying test he passed on the first try ten times since instructors didn’t believe that he could really be capable of doing it. While Hudner champions his new friend immediately, they clash when Brown chooses not to respond to an insult but then objects to Hudner stepping in to defend him; Hudner’s loyalty doesn’t make room for Brown to have autonomy over which battles he chooses to fight.
While the true story at its center is moving and worthy of this cinematic showcase, its 139-minute runtime does feel excessive. Like Top Gun: Maverick, it shifts into gear during its flight sequences, conveying the intensity of being up in the air behind enemy lines. Majors, who will soon be seen as Kang the Conqueror in the next slate of Marvel films, delivers a committed performance as Brown, and he’s well-matched by Powell, who calibrates a much less cocky yet still skilled aviator as compared with his portrayal of Hangman. The film’s best Oscar hopes lie in its shortlisted score from Chanda Dancy, which succeeds at capturing the film’s blend of adventure and drama. B