The JD Dillard-breakout feature film, “Slight,” was a low-budget gem of 2016 that showed what the director could do. Applying an indie sensibility to a gritty, magic-inspired superhero origin story, his focus on character over philosophy made “Slate” moving and memorable. JD Dillard’s new movie, the Korean War epic “Devotion,” has the potential to increase the budget, and the gorgeous, soaring visuals are more spectacular, but there’s no compromise on character.
But this movie makes “Devotion” an emotional and fitting tribute to the real men behind the incredible true story. Lt. Ensign Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner’s experiences in the Korean War are in Adam Makos’ book, “Devotion: An Epic of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice. Glenn Powell, who cornered the wingman market this year with “Devotion” and “Top Gun: Maverick,” by Tom Hudner Starring: The amazing actor Jonathan Major plays Jesse Brown.Contact Us
Working with Academy Award-winning cinematographer Eric Messerschmidt, Dillard created an aesthetic for “Devotion” that harkens back to classic war films: the pilots’ bristlecreamed coifs shine against their leather bomber jackets; Their shiny new Corsair planes roar triumphantly through the clouds of coastal New England during their training flight. What they’re training for remains to be seen, as this crop of aviators has dropped out of “The Big Show” of World War II. Tom, a Naval Academy graduate, is restless to prove himself.
Jesse wants to settle down with his young family, and despite the concerns of his wife Daisy (Christina Jackson), he’s willing to fight to do what he loves. Bachelor Tom is still looking for what he’s fighting for (apart from war hero status). He thinks it’s a woman, but he finds that his purpose in battle is right next to him, in his friend Jesse.
“Devotion,” at 2 hours and 18 minutes, takes time to build the world and the characters, which prove to be important impetus for the aerial action of the second half. In establishing the premise, Crane and Stewart’s script is refreshingly restrained: it shows the characters in natural conversation as they work together and avoids clunky exposition.
We get a sense of the racism Jesse experiences through tension with the Marines aboard their aircraft carrier, and an anecdote he relates to Tom about the cruel, unfair swimming test he was subjected to by the Navy. We see how she struggles internally with the trauma of racism in the strange rituals she completes when she is alone, repeating horrible insults and insults to herself in the mirror. “That helps,” she says sadly when Tom catches her. It’s a coping mechanism that’s not explained or fixed, but just part of his character.
At the same time, Jesse became an important symbol — for the Navy, for the nation, and for the black sailors who flocked to the deck to watch his every takeoff and landing. Jessie, who keeps her emotions close to the vest, is uncomfortable when a Life magazine photographer asks for a photo shoot of her, but relents when a black sailor presents her with a Rolex watch they entered as a token. Appreciate them.
Powell, with his sharp, all-American profile, fits the bill of a clean-cut New England pilot from the franchise, and the supporting cast, including Joe Jonas, Spencer Neville and Nick Hargrove as other pilots, brings some personality to the pose. Thomas Sadowski is particularly great as their no-nonsense but sympathetic commander. But the film’s performance is Majors’, who always makes unexpected and interesting choices. It’s a thumb hook on his flight suit, or the cadence of his speech, or the long look he gives a sailor, who can’t believe that Elizabeth Taylor (Serinda Swan) has invited this black pilot to a special ear. Casino
While it’s fun to watch the boys flirt with the French ladies while they’re off ashore, and while it may seem like a cliffhanger before the action, it’s an important part of getting to know Jessie and Tom and their relationship, before we get to the high-flying heroics. Overall, “Bhakti” stays grounded, never going for over-the-top emotion or sensation, just seeking to express something authentically moving and human. It undoubtedly achieves that, providing a stirring story of wartime friendship and beyond, that is both rare and real.