There’s no cinematic release whatsoever for JD Dillard’s $80 million Korean war action movie in the UK, a frustrating flop in the US leaving no option for a big screen rediscovery over here. But discovery is exactly what this film deserves; set back in 1950, Devotion is a story not of racial division, but of brave men working together to a common goal, and that welcome concept nimbly springs the drama from the clutches of awards-season worthiness or craven virtue signalling. Teaming the up and coming Jonathan Majors with Top Gun; Maverick’s MVP Glenn Powell, it’s a big star, large scale actioneer based on real events that should fly for sophisticated home viewers on yer cooncil UK Prime and US Paramount +.
So tickets for the Big Show are here. ‘You’re not here to fly and screw,’ the aspiring aviators are warned, but that’s the least of the problems they have; Ensign Jesse Brown (Majors) has to wrestle with the Corsair, a fast airplane with ‘enough torque to flip a house’ if you’re unwise enough to punch the throttle at the wrong moment. The arrival of Lieutenant Tom Hudner (Glenn Powell) initially offers rivalry (‘I’m not sure about this guy’), but over a series of dangerous missions, the two men form a bond that’s very different from the snide racial profiling or patronising attention that Brown encounters elsewhere. On the Chinese Korean border, one slip-up could cause a world war, but when Brown’s plane crash-lands, Hudner ambles and sweeps in to the rescue…
Perhaps riding on the coat tails of Top Gun: Maverick wasn’t such a wise move at the box-office, but Devotion more than passes muster as a profile in courage; this is a story about battle hardened characters who deserve our respect. ‘The mundanity of a job well done…’ is about as much reward as they can expect in the face of war. ‘…the real battle is being someone that can be depended on…’ Working with Mank cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt , Dillard does well with dreamy aerial sequences of planes buzzing sailboats, while Majors excels in scenes opening up Brown’s psyche. One moment in which Brown psyches himself up in front of a mirror by uttering epithets against himself skillfully reveals how adversity makes Jesse Brown run.
Devotion is based on true events, but doesn’t expect history lessons to do all the engagement; this is a commercial, accessible package, running as far as a diversion to Paris and to awkward meetings with starlet Elizabeth Taylor for a little extra old time Hollywood glam. While not quite the cinematic orgasm that Powell delivered at the climax of Maverick (‘This is your savior speaking…’), this is a well-crafted and highly recommendable slice of war heroics that hits all the targets it aims for. So forget the box office; as the aviators might put it, ‘Maps out, lights on, and let’s go!’