Warning: this article contains spoilers.
“Dedication” tells the story of Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors), the first person of color to become a United States Navy aviator.
Blending issues of racial discrimination with the action sequences and combat pilot aesthetic of “Top Gun: Maverick”, “Devotion” is a resonant tale of social justice set during the Korean War.
Much of the film focuses on the friendship between Brown and fighter pilot Tom Hudner (Glen Powell), though few characters beyond Brown are fully developed.
Powell’s role in “Devotion” is a stark contrast to his “Top Gun: Maverick” counterpart from the get-go, trading brash arrogance for a definite moral conscience as Hudner, Brown’s first and only wingman.
The film addresses Hudner’s misperceptions through an exploration of Brown’s own pain. Brown accuses Hudner of offering help when it costs him nothing and of despising Brown as a subordinate rather than a person.
Brown faces discrimination as the only black fighter pilot in his unit, struggling with his sanity amid the hatred and bigotry surrounding him. He keeps a diary of his pain – of all the horrible things that have been said to him – and repeats them to himself while looking in a mirror.
This scene is a microcosm of Majors’ brilliance as an artist capable of immersing audiences in the full realm of his emotional range. The devastating mirror sequence quickly turns into screams, an exercise in agony seething to the surface for someone persecuted because of their skin color.
Yet Brown remains steadfast in his desire to serve his country. Rather than allow himself to be front-page news by centering his story around his race alone, he refuses a group of reporters who are looking for the answers that get the attention they need.
Hudner, on the other hand, is a smiling Ken doll from heaven. While Powell does an admirable job with the material provided, his character’s stiff dialogue and non-existent backstory bogs down the film’s narrative of what is meant to be a moving true story.
Oscar winner Erik Messerschmidt director of photography behind “Mank”, however, orchestrates enough tangible tension during explosive airplane sequences to make up for the film’s superficiality for its secondary characters.
As for the script itself, director JD Dillard segues into Brown’s devotion to his family and Hudner’s devotion to Brown concisely. The filmmaker uses the relationship between these two men as a focal point to explore grace and humanity in a time of racial intolerance – a time very similar to our own.
But more than anything, Dillard evokes themes of growth through the development of the two men’s relationship. Before the war, Brown invites Hudner to his home, introducing him to his wife Daisy (Christina Jackson) and daughter.
As the film progresses, we see exactly what Brown is fighting for. We see the love he has for his family, and we see an unrelenting devotion to a nation that still treats him as less than human.
Although it takes a while, “Devotion” finally finds its footing when it focuses on Hudner and Brown’s legacy after Brown’s fiery plane crash in a war zone. Here, the movie doesn’t just show similarities to the resolution of “Top Gun: Maverick.” It shows devotion to the selfless pilot that was Brown – a forgotten man of America’s “forgotten war”.
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