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'Devotion' review: Aviation drama achieves flight but never soars

Director J.D. Dillard's tale, based on a true story, is stuck in a holding pattern.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

In the aviation action-drama "Devotion," Jonathan Majors is the best thing about a mediocre movie. As the 33-year-old's star is still rising, this will continue to be the case until he finds a project that is able to meet him at his level.

Here he plays Jesse Brown, a fighter pilot in the Korean War, and the Navy's first Black aviator to complete basic training. The film honors Brown's legacy but soft peddles the struggles he endured; it's a movie that acknowledges the racism and prejudice of the time but doesn't truly wrestle with it.

Jonathan Majors in "Devotion."

Brown has a wingman, Tom Hudner ("Top Gun: Maverick's" Glen Powell), and the film is just as much about their relationship as it is about Brown's fight for equality. In any other year, the film's thrilling aerial photography and dogfighting scenes might make it stand out, but in 2022, it simply has to settle for the title of second best fighter pilot movie starring Glen Powell.

Brown, who keeps a notebook full of the slurs and racial epithets thrown his way, doesn't have to look far to remind himself of the racism he faces; he even stares himself down in the mirror and hurls insults at himself, in a standout Spike Lee-like sequence where Majors cuts deep.

But ultimately, the film feels sanitized, sanded down from a harder, more confrontational film, and built to satisfy audiences who just want a good action film. "Devotion" is a good action film, and there's one breathtaking plane crash shot in particular that feels like it should be broken down in a film studies class. But it feels like "Devotion," and Majors in particular, had more to give. Even its generic title feels like a compromise.

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Devotion'

GRADE: B-

Rated PG-13: for strong language, some war action/violence, and smoking

Running time: 139 minutes

In theaters