‘Devotion’ Review: Jonathan Majors Soars as Navy’s First Black Fighter Pilot

TIFF: J.D. Dillard’s high-flying film effectively saves Jesse Brown’s memory from a “forgotten war,” even though its adventures are few and far between.

A downbeat Korean War drama about the friendship between the first black aviator in naval history and the Abercrombie model wingman who always had his side, “devotion” can suffer in the shadow of a mega-spectacle like “Top Gun: Maverick,” But JD Dillard’s stable and traditional pilot saga has some unique advantages that allow it to stay in the air in such competitive skies.

The first and most obvious of those strengths is Jonathan Majors, who imbues Jesse Brown with layers of warmth and nuance that Jake Crane and Jonathan A.H. Stewart’s thin screenplay could never find on its own. The second is that “Bhakti” has a recognizable enemy, while both “Top Gun” movies make the dramatically acceptable decision to lock their heroes into dogfights with the usual bad guys.

But that foe isn’t just the Chinese ground forces that ultimately present Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner (ultra-likable “Maverick” alum Glen Powell) with their most threatening threat, nor the persistent racism that drives Jesse every day. Time is to face your fellow pilots. phase of his naval career. As for Dillard’s film, the real enemy is the dangerous suspicion that drives this kind of racism from its subject matter; The disbelief that it takes to Jesse in his own skills, and the distrust that drives him to maintain in the men flying with him.

“Devotion” can be harsh and hackneyed at the best of times—it’s nothing if not a war movie that many other war movies have seen—but whenever Brown’s loneliness is on hold it’s a few inches off the ground. Wakes felt as he flew toward an aircraft carrier whose landing signal officer wanted him to crash, or soared into formation with people who might have been happy to shoot him down. By presenting the nuances of that particular brainwashing nonsense without too much spades, Dillard’s film is able to explore how Tom earned Jesse’s trust.

This can be great for big speeches or any sort of “I’m Spartacus!” does not go through. moment, through the rather subtle process of a white man (who doesn’t even know what he’s actually fighting for) learning to recognize what his wingman really needs from him. This is allied to a speed of several hundred miles per hour, and is in support of someone who showed greater bravery by boarding an aircraft than most pilots ever had during a flight. Tom and Jesse never become best friends—another wrinkle that helps save “Devotion” from nose-diving straight into “The Blind Side”—but it really impresses that these two men realize that. Shows what it means to trust each other, both during and after the war.

It would probably be even more impressive if Major and Powell were given better defined characters to play, but such charismatic stars can be like human stereograms on screen, rich in depth from even the simplest designs. capable of causing confusion. Major may have had something to work with. “Devotion” focused entirely on Jesse’s story, but — for reasons that become especially clear during the film’s closing text — about Brown’s legacy. Any film made in the U.S. had no choice but to create a similar niche. Even for Hudner.

Still, it’s weird that we first meet Jesse from Tom’s point of view when he finds the first black person he’ll ever fly with in the bathroom mirror with adjectives yelling at himself. It’s 1950, the “big show” is over, and most pilots at the Navy’s Rhode Island base are convinced they were born too early or too late for their shot at heroism.

Meanwhile, these twenty-year-olds in their F8F Bearcats have fun zooming over local beaches and buzzing in the nearby suburbs, where Jesse lives with his wife (Christina Jackson), mostly war letters. Is told to look disheartened while reading, but is there for the film when she needs him) and their young daughter in a house next to a “nice” white neighbor who calls the police at any opportunity.

One of the pilots, played by Joe Jonas, who performs better than some of the other pop stars, makes no real impact. He’s like the rest of the supporting flyboys in the movie in that way – no better or worse. Only Thomas Sadowski, playing the pilots’ commanding officer, gets to do anything, with the “newsroom” actor showing up for expository mission briefings with so much regularity that it begins to feel like he’s a cut. -Scene is the character who introduces the next level video game. During one such briefing, he asks his soldiers to prepare themselves for the Korean War.

Don’t be fooled by the promise of dogfights: “Devotion” is far more than a drama, it’s a mid-century action movie. The average scene has Jesse and Tom standing together in the cramped abyss of an aircraft carrier and discussing the finer points of “subjugation,” what it really means for someone whom the Navy calls a propaganda opportunity (a more explicit racial proposition). ) than a pilot assumes. mostly reserved for a clumsy second act sequence in which the pilot washes ashes in Cannes and spends a night with Liz Taylor).

Tom is nothing more than a nice smile with some good intentions behind it, but if Powell is stuck playing a nonexistent role—despite being an executive producer on the project—his classic swagger is trusting the nuances of Tom’s loyalty. Makes his wingman quite easy. Jesse may likewise be some dimension shy to use this film, but Major makes a whole meal of scraps on his plate, expressing actor Brown’s inner love and pain with the full richness of the real person he plays. Used to be. There’s no wave of didacticism in his character or in the dynamic he’s established with Tom; These are just two men doing their best to find each other in all sorts of exotic conditions.

“devotion”

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This becomes more clearly evident only when the action shifts to Korea. While “Munk” cinematographer Eric Messerschmidt opts for a darker and darker color palette that makes every interior scene look like it fell from a Clint Eastwood film, aerial shots are a splendid splurge worth watching on the biggest IMAX screens. shot with.

The training flights prove to be the most impressive – the violins of Chanda Dancy’s lush but poignant score are so intense that the pilots are dodging them like the enemy – but the battle scenes are shot with a clarity and artistry that blends with their CGI. extends to restrained use, and shows Dillard’s maturity as a filmmaker. Little of his previous features (the diverting creature feature “Sweetheart” and the less successful “Sleet”) suggested he had the chops to pull it off, but his clarity of vision shines here even when his budget is stretched. Very tense situation going on. Dillard’s own father was the second black member of the Navy’s Blue Angels flight demo squad, and the director’s latest film shows the integrity of a son determined to honor that legacy.

And honoring legacies is what “Bhakti” does best, as the film delves back into the footnotes of a “forgotten war” to save the memories of two people who would do anything in their power to save each other. and will do everything. It’s deeply touching to see how this effort has continued through generations and on the movie screen, even if not the movie itself.

Grade: C+

‘Bhakti’ premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. Sony Pictures will release it in cinemas on Wednesday 23 November.

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