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Devotion (Christian Movie Review)

About The Movie

It has been a good year for airplane movies. Despite the obvious similarities to Top Gun: Maverick, and even the oddity of both featuring actor Glen Powell, Devotion is a different type of film. Its not a crowd-pleasing blockbuster. Rather, it’s a serious drama that is more interested in exploring the experiences of a black pilot than in delivering high-adrenaline aerial dogfights.

The story is about America’s “forgotten” in the Korean War during the 1950s and was inspired by the experience of Jesse Brown, who faced cultural prejudice for being both a black man and a navy pilot (Brown was the first black aviator to complete the U.S. Navy’s basic flight training program). I’m no history buff, so I’m not sure how faithfully the film flies to the historic events. But for the most part, the historical setting is merely the background for a character study of Jesse Brown.

Despite being a film about planes, Devotion never manages to soar. Perhaps the highest compliment that can be said about the war-themed movie is that it gets the job done. It’s an effective war film that showcases competence but rarely excellence. It is straightforward and to the point, without much flash or flare.

The acting is solid. Jonathan Majors, who seems to be in everything right now, silently communicates both Jesse Brown’s quiet strength and harbored pain. In a wonderfully acted scene, he repeats hateful comments he has received as the camera zooms in almost uncomfortably close on his face. Glen Powell (as Tom Hunder, Jesse’s friend and wingman), in his second spin in a cockpit this year, is also good, despite less characterization.

Devotion is a character drama rather than a fast-paced thriller, but it is also a war film that transports viewers into the combat. The action scenes are compelling, but not of the breathless or edge-of-your-seat variety. The aerial combat is not as “cinematic” or immersive as Top Gun: Maverick, but arguably feels more grounded. There is just something undeniably satisfying about watching planes soar across the screen in formation.

The film is inspirational, but it’s not a feel-good story. It’s the type of movie that sends you from the theater quietly pondering rather than pumping your fist and chattering. I appreciated Devotion for what it is: a straightforward war film that celebrates a trailblazing hero and shines a light on cultural prejudices and experiences.  

  

On the Surface

For Consideration

Beneath The Surface

Engage The Film

Racial Experiences & Prejudice

The heart of the film is Jesse Brown’s experience as a black man. Racism and prejudice toward him are shown through overt actions, such as bartenders who refuse to serve him, as well as in more subtle ways. For example, it’s emphasized on several occasions that Jesse doesn’t drink alcohol. The implication is that he cannot afford to allow himself to exhibit any drunken behavior. As he says to his wingman at one point in the film, “A slap on my wrist is not the same as one on yours.” On repeated occasions, it suggested that Brown cannot merely be “good enough.” He must constantly remain above any hint of reproach.

In one scene, a crew of journalists visit the aircraft carrier to do a focus piece on Brown. On the surface, it appears that they desire to celebrate him and his accomplishments. But they are clearly fishing for a specific narrative about race. Brown resists taking the bait and desires to be acknowledged for his skill and accomplishments as an individual, not just as a black man.   

Devotion also explores how the experience of racism and prejudice can lead to vastly different perspectives. During their first mission, Jesse disobeys Tom’s direct orders, leading Tom to write him up in the report. Jesse is reprimanded for insubordination. It’s a well-executed scene in which both characters’ perspectives are understandable. Tom is right to submit an honest report, and Jesse’s reasons for not following orders are understandable given the abuses he has endured by those lording their authority over him (explained in more detail later in the film). When Tom tries to make things right, his well-meaning gesture is not taken as well as he expected. There is an almost helpless disconnect between the two men, despite their friendship and trust. The film never fully resolves that disconnect, but it shows that the best Tom can do is simply “be his wingman.” He may never truly understand Jesse’s perspective and experience, but he can still be there for him.

The Meaning of Devotion

The movie’s title becomes the underlying thread that connects the various storylines. Tom begins the more noble version of a “rebel without a cause.” He wants to help, do right, and fight, but he lacks a clear sense of who or what he is fighting for. After his first mission, his commanding officer gives him a speech that, at the end of the day, wars are forgotten, as are the heroic deeds of individual men. The best a person can do is become someone others can count on. As mentioned above, Tom’s greatest achievement is becoming that person to Jesse.

Devotion is also demonstrated in the context of marriage. In fact, the title likely comes from a letter Jesse writes to his wife, referring to himself as “her most devoted husband.” While Jesse and his wife spend most of the film apart, their relationship is a strong picture of devotion to each other.

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