Devotion Review: Dillard’s best film to date is high-flying and emotional
Director J.D. Dillard helms his best film to date with Devotion delivering an epic and emotional historical biopic that features top-tier performances and some incredible action.
The film brings audiences into the height of the Korean War where Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors), the first Black aviator for the U.S. Navy, and fellow fighter pilots prepare for missions that’ll aid ground forces. With the missions ramping up in danger as the war rages on, Jesse, his new partner Tom Hudner (Glen Powell), and the rest of the young pilots on their elite team face greater threats that could cause some of them to not return home.
Through Dillard’s past efforts, he’s shown his ability to help craft unique visual effects and action that are incredibly thrilling and eye-catching to watch. With Devotion giving Dillard his strong source material and budget to work with yet, he absolutely thrives in making it a stunning action experience. Those that came off loving everything that Top Gun: Maverick had to offer will absolutely love the intensity and pace of Devotion’s high-flying action. With amazing sound design and a strong score from Chanda Dancy, there are great technical elements that elevate the experience of being amid fearsome dogfights and gripping sequences that dive deep into some of the war’s tensest moments.
Yet, even for Devotion providing the cinematic spectacle of a big blockbuster that’s confidently helmed by Dillard and lighting up the screen with intense action, it never forgets the human element of its story and world. A big part of what makes the stakes in Devotion so high is how it invests you in its characters. There are constant reminders of what Jesse has back home that make every daredevil antic and close call leave you clutching because of what he could leave behind. The growing relationship between Jesse and Tom is super genuine and feels like a brotherly bond forming. Even when the group is shown outside of their missions, their relationships and conversations have some connective chemistry making you really care about them on a more personal level.
Thus, when things get tough and they even deal with the loss of one of their own, you find yourself in anguish just like them and it makes the film touching on the racial and social obstacles Jesse faces more compelling. The way that Dillard touches on the impact of Jesse’s presence as a Black Navy pilot leads to some really interesting story threads surrounding other people’s perceptions of him and him wanting to be defined by his skill rather than his skin color. There are also some great story moments dealing with social obstacles that Jesse faces for his color, including how Tom and other white recruits are unaware of the barriers or extra pressure he faces. The personal story and perspective of Jessie in Devotion is a key element to its narrative that’s expertly weaved in throughout and plays a big role in Jesse and Tom’s strong arc together.
Jesse and Tom’s growing dynamic is Devotion’s strongest emotional tether, largely because both Majors and Powell are delivering top-tier performances. Majors delivers one of the best performances of his career so far through the immense charm, grit, and heart he showcases as Jesse. He has some standout scenes that reflect Jesse’s personal trauma from discrimination he’s faced in his life, and after his performance here, Majors should truly be seen as a modern leading man.
Powell already had a breakout moment in Maverick earlier this year but delivers a much stronger performance with more of the spotlight. He makes Tom’s growing care for Jesse have some real heart and the finale really delivers a great mix of intensity and heart that can’t be understated. It perfectly evokes the real bond established between Tom and Jesse and features some deeply emotional moments that’ll genuinely leave audiences misty-eyed through the very end. Plus, Christina Jackson’s performance as Jessie’s wife Daisy is a strong emotional core of the film’s final moments as well and the final exchange between her and Tom is a great culmination of Jesse’s impact.
Devotion is a strong showing for everyone involved, especially Dillard, for its great balance of epic action and great character-driven narrative. It’s elevated and bolstered by not only Dillard’s great direction and vision for this true war story out of America’s Forgotten War, but also Majors and Powell’s excellent performances that’ll genuinely sweep you off your feet. It’s a true hidden gem of 2022 that simply can’t be overlooked.