Action Devotion

Brotherhood of Birdmen: A TIFF Review of ‘Devotion’

September 16, 2022Ben MK

African Americans' battle with generations of racism and discrimination have been well documented in film; and for African American pilots especially, in movies like The Tuskegee Airmen and Red Tails. Now, with Devotion, director J.D. Dillard is revisiting that poignant struggle, in this based-on-a-true-story wartime drama about two American pilots who form an unbreakable bond of friendship in the midst of what would eventually come to be known as the Forgotten War.

The year is 1950, and World War II may be over, but a new war is brewing on the horizon. Tensions between North and South Korea have been on the rise, and in advance of the looming conflict, the US Navy has been preparing those pilots who never flew in "the Big Show" for combat. Among them is Lieutenant Tom Hudner (Top Gun: Maverick's Glen Powell), who's just been transferred to a US Navy base in Rhode Island, where he and Ensign Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors) are paired as wingmen. A devoted husband and father, as well as being the Navy's first African American aviator, Jesse has become something of a hero for his fellow Black servicemen. However, in the eyes of some of his Caucasian counterparts, who still look down upon him, Jesse will never be one of them. It's an opinion that is always at the back of Jesse's mind, as he's constantly working to prove himself a worthy pilot. And as the Cold War threatens to boil over, Jesse will finally have that chance, as he, Tom and the rest of their six-man fleet squadron take to the skies above North Korea, where they'll engage the enemy for the first time.

What follows won't come as much of a surprise to viewers familiar with stories about racism, underdog biopics, or war films. The problem with Devotion, however, is that it tries to tackle all three of these genres but never actually goes beyond skimming the surface for any of them. Make no mistake, the result is still a perfectly serviceable and inoffensive effort that at least gives the impression it has something meaningful to say. If you're looking for a movie that soars a little higher with both its drama and its action, though, you'd best fly on by.

Devotion screens under the Special Presentations programme at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 18 min.

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