‘Devotion’ Spotlights A Forgotten Story From “The Forgotten War”

On the surface, Devotion may look like another civil rights/White Savior movie in which a young white pilot befriends the black pilot who is often shunned and encourages the rest of the squadron to put aside their prejudice and subtle racism. But no, thank Allah, this isn’t that movie. That might explain why the movie was a box office flop. But more on that later.

Navy Lt. Tom Hudner (Glen Powell) is transferred to the Fighter Squadron 32 at the Quonset Naval Air Station on the coast of Rhode Island. He meets Ensign Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors) who is psyching himself up in the mirror by screaming all the hateful comments and racial slurs he’s heard. Majors is the only black man stationed in the unit. There’s some small talk among the others in the squadron that they’re not happy being assigned alongside a “colored” pilot. But Hudner initially passes these comments off as if they don’t phase him.

Brown is living in a nice house in a nice neighborhood (of white people) who aren’t too neighborly. The cops are called for a noise complaint because Brown and his wife, Daisy (Christina Jackson), had the music turned up probably in which someone standing outside could hear it muffled but it’s a way to show the Browns they’re not welcome. Hudner seems to be the most friendly to Brown, even offering him a ride home when Brown’s car breaks down. But Hudner is smart enough to read the room that when he meets Daisey, Brown wants him to leave.

You can understand why Brown isn’t too quick to make too many friends as the squadron has been assigned to fly the F4U-4 Corsairs fighter planes. These planes were nicknamed “the widow makers” and a pilot had to be skilled and careful in flying one. Brown knows he’s going to be scrutinized more and a scene where he doesn’t land on the aircraft carrier the first time but flies around results in him being ragged on by the rest of the squadron except Hudner who reminds him that he still landed safely. The two seem to have a mutual respect for each other as pilots that grows into a friendship.

Eventually, the squadron is deployed to the Mediterranean Sea as the Korean War, aka Korean Conflicts, seems poised to happen. Brown now must face racial criticism from the Marines also on the carrier. During a scene where they’re at shore leave in Cannes, France, Brown spots Elizabeth Taylor (Serinda Swain) on the beach and she invites him and the rest to an exclusive casino/nightclub later. Brown and the rest of his squadron in their Navy Whites get in and meet Taylor and he earns a little more respect.

However, at the casino, the Marines try to start a fight but Hudner jumps in to stop him. Brown tells him not to fight his fights for him, but just be there. As war breaks out, Brown finds himself at odds with Hudner, a superior officer, who mentions in a report that Brown denied his order for retreat and destroyed a bridge. This causes some tension as Brown tells Hudner it will be used against him for any future promotions.

The other black sailors on the aircraft carrier USS Leyte often show more respect for Brown, coming out on deck to watch him take off and land. At one point, Brown is given an expensive watch by them. When Hudner questions why Brown doesn’t do more about what’s said to him by white military members, especially the enlisted men, Brown recounts how hard he had it during training when others wanted to see him fail. If you’ve seen Men of Honor about master diver Carl Brashear, you know of some of the things Brown speaks.

But director J.D. Dillard and screenwriters Jake Crane and Jonathan A. Stewart keep this from going down familair roads. There’s only so many comically ludricous pot-bellied sheriffs speaking in a southern drawl you can put in movies like this before it gets old. It’s more like Brian’s Song meets Top Gun. That being said, this doesn’t have a happy ending as movies set during war times do.

However the scenes between Majors and Jackson as we see the Browns as your typical nuclear family that give the movie a needed charm and liveliness. Brown, in real life, was only in his early 20s and didn’t drink alcoholic drinks. At Cannes as the rest of his squadron goes off to have some fun, he mentions he’s getting something for Daisy. He takes a walk down to the beach and waves. This goes back to the last time they were together and he told her to go to the beach and wave east. It’s a touching moment considering the rest of the movie.

That being said, I’m not going to say what happens but a quick Google search can probably clue you in. Both Majors and Powell give good perfomances as does Jackson. And movies about Korea hardly ever get made, which is why it’s sometimes called the “Forgotten War.” MASH was set during Korea but supposed to be about Vietnam. Heartbreak Ridge referenced Korea and other movies like For the Boys and MacArthur have scenes taking place during Korea.

Therefore, it’s no surprise, this movie flopped at the box office making $21.4 million against a $90 million budget. Also, the movie doesn’t have the typical cliches and tropes that other movies like this have. Over a decade ago, George Lucas put $58 million into the movie Red Tails about the Tuskege Airmen and it only made about $50 million. After that, Lucas sold Lucasfilms and all properties to Disney. While I think Devotion is better than Red Tails, it’s a shame neither movie were very successful.

Devotion doesn’t follow the same formula people are used to like say Hidden Figures, in which Powell played astronaut John Glenn, follow a more White Savior tropes. I wouldn’t call Hudner a White Savior. This is about the camradie between people in military during war time. When Brown invites Hudner in before they ship off, he is taken aback. They started out as colleagues, became friends, and ended as family.

Thankfully, Devotion, which was released in over Thanksgiving weekend last year is now streaming on Paramount-Plus for audiences to watch. Granted the flight scenes are not as good as in Top Gun: Maverick, which also co-starred Powell. But this is a different movie.

What do you think? Please comment.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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