In another lifetime, Devotion is the type of film that would play all the time on cable, becoming your father or grandfather or uncle’s favorite movie. It’s so old school in its approach that you can’t help but feel the familiarity. That being said, the flick is undeniably effective, allowing these qualities to be positives, as opposed to negatives. It’s a far cry from something like Top Gun: Maverick, but it’s not trying to replicate that in any way. Playing at the Toronto International Film Festival, Devotion has more than enough to offer in order to warrant a recommendation. It just doesn’t have quite as much originality as some other titles.
Devotion flies down a well worn path, but there’s always a sense that it’s honoring the past, as opposed to limiting its creativity in any way. Almost from top to bottom, it feels familiar, though it’s hardly a bad thing. There’s a comfort food nature to it all, even in a military biopic. It’s not quite an Oscar caliber play, but it’s certainly quality cinema.
A true story set during the Korean War, this is the tale of Navy pilots Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors) and Tom Hudner (Glen Powell). They would go on to become among the most celebrated wingmen of the conflict, but before that, they were just pilots who had just gotten their wings. With very different backgrounds, they become friends and bond, which was hardly the norm at the time.
Faced with racism, even among his fellow servicemen, Brown persists with his head held high, supported by Hudner. Their commanding officer, Dick Cevoli (Thomas Sadoski) takes a shine to both, though it’s Hudner who advances, career-wise. Brown wants to do well, but as much as anything, he just wants to get home to his wife Daisy Brown (Christina Jackson). The true story is out there for perusing, but the beats of the story won’t be hard to find fairly familiar.
Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell are aces in this movie. Majors is a rock of determination and quiet determination, very much giving off a Jackie Robinson vibe. Powell is your more typical All-American cinematic character, but with a pure heart and a modern sensibility. It’s among the best work we’ve seen from both of them. Moreover, they have great chemistry with each other as well. Christina Jackson and Thomas Sadoski are strong in roles that could easily have been more cliched than they wind up being. Supporting players here include Joseph Cross, Joe Jonas, Serinda Swan, and more. Of course, this is Majors and Powell’s movie, through and through.
Director J.D. Dillard, alongside writers Jake Crane and Jonathan Stewart, do things by the book. At the same time, I don’t mean that as much of a critique. Devotion is old fashioned, but in such a way that’s easy to appreciate. Again, this is the sort of title that, a generation ago, would have had a long future playing on cable over and over. Crane and Stewart wrote something that could have been made decades ago. Dillard directs it in a way that honors that (featuring solid cinematography from DP Erik Messerschmidt), even if it leads to some fairly slack pacing, at least early on.
Devotion is undeniably effective cinema. Nothing else at TIFF has quite as clearly been large mainstream entertainment, but festivals have a place for that too. This biopic and war drama has more than enough to offer, even if a lot of what it’s trying to do has been done before. It’s a rock solid flick, with good acting at its core. What more can you ask for?