Devotion Tells Harrowing True Story with Incredible Aerial Scenes and Solid Cast.
Let me save you some time: director J.D. Dillard’s new film, “Devotion”, really is better than “Top Gun: Maverick”. It really is. “Devotion” is one of the finest aviation films ever made. It earns a rightful place alongside classics like the 1969 epic “The Battle of Britain” and the 1954 “Bridges at Toko Ri”.
The true story behind “Devotion” combined with the deeply interwoven themes of racial conflict in America and combat in the Korean War give this film multiple layers and an intrinsic significance that no Hollywood scriptwriter could fabricate. Truth really is stranger, and in this case, better than fiction.
The big question for devoted aviation lovers will be, will they enjoy a typically reverent and often white-washed flying movie now overlaid with a more reality-based depiction of deep social inequality in America? “Devotion” peels back an inconvenient truth in the military and Hollywood. There are very few black fighter pilots to this day.
“Devotion” (Sony Pictures in the U.S., STX International outside U.S.) is the cinematic adaptation of author Adam Makos 2015 book, “Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice” (first edition, Atlantic Books, 2015. Latest edition, Ballantine Books, 2017). In fact, the compelling true story behind the creation of author Adam Makos’ book, “Devotion”, is worth its own narrative.
Makos has carved out a solid literary shtick of interviewing WWII and Korean War veterans and bringing their stories to life through exhaustive research and good story telling. While Makos is no Michener or Hemingway, he is a vigorous researcher, capable author and gifted narrator. His books have found an audience in the era when our “Greatest Generation” of WWII and Korean War veterans are dying at a rate of, “234 per day” according to a January, 2022 article by Nicholas Reimann in Forbes magazine.
Makos turned heads with his excellent 2012 book, “A Higher Call” about the survival of a B-17 crew and their unlikely encounter with a German fighter pilot at the height of WWII in 1943. He followed up with “Devotion” in 2015 and quickly caught the attention of mainstream Hollywood screenwriters Jake Crane and Jonathan A.H. Stewart. The rest, as they say, is well-adapted movie history.
In the post-pandemic movie release rush, the comparisons between aviation films “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Devotion” are inevitable. It’s been a long time since major studios put big money behind military aviation films, a genre’ that is typically limited to airplane geeks and history buffs. To have two major aviation film releases in a year for the general movie audience is unprecedented in recent cinema history.
You already know that “Devotion” is the true story of U.S. Navy Ensign Jesse Brown and Captain Thomas Hudner during the Korean War. Capt. Hudner won the Medal of Honor for a heroic rescue attempt on December 4, 1950, when Ensign Brown’s F4U-4 Corsair was shot down in the famous Battle of the Chosin Reservoir.
The cast of “Devotion” is not good, it is incredible. There is a sleeper performance by Thomas Sadoski as Dick Cevoli, the Executive Officer and Division Commander of VF-32. He delivers a key inspirational speech at the climax of the film. Actor Glen Powell, also of “Top Gun: Maverick” fame as Lt. Jake “Hangman” Seresin, equals and compliments the performance of Jonathan Majors as Ensign Jesse Brown. There is not a weak performance across the entire cast.
Visually, “Devotion” more than holds its own against “Maverick”. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer of “Top Gun: Maverick” said his film was, “A love letter to aviation”. But “Devotion” eclipses “Maverick” visually and in its reverence for flying. Real vintage WWII/Korean War era aircraft were filmed in breathtaking aerial sequences from the famous Aero L-39 CineJet used by Helinet. The jet camera aircraft carried the specially developed SHOTOVER F1 RUSH camera and gimbal that was also used in “Maverick”. But the visual results in “Devotion” are better.
The visual differences between flying sequences in “Devotion” and “Maverick” are the difference between a computer game and an epic film. “Maverick” has a flight simulator, gameplay-like visual texture to it. There are frantic cuts and flashing segues. The flight sequences in “Maverick” are nearly seizure inducing in an attempt to transmit the vertigo and disorientation of high speed jet flight in F/A-18 Super Hornets. For “Maverick”, a wild, implausible superhero-fictional movie, it works.
But “Devotion” is a true story. It features almost entirely piston engine late 1940s and 1950s aircraft. The result is a different pace and appearance from “Maverick” in every flying scene. In “Devotion”, you simply have more time to enjoy the flight sequences. They’re more reverent and lyrical. And the sounds of those radial engines…
At least five flying Vought/Goodyear Corsairs were used in the aerial sequences of “Devotion”. Several of the privately owned vintage warbirds were repainted in the authentic markings of the 1950s’ fighter squadron VF-32, the “Fighting Swordsmen”, onboard the aircraft carrier USS Leyte (CV-32). Other aircraft featured in the film include a Douglas AD-4W Skyraider from the Erickson Aircraft Collection in Madras, Oregon and an actual Russian-built MiG-15, civil registration N87CN, from the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, California. But while this movie will be a feast for lovers of the famous bent-wing Corsair, it is the underappreciated Grumman F8F Bearcat that steals the show in “Devotion” during the opening flying sequence.
If you’re on this website, it’s likely you’re already interested in seeing “Devotion”. When you walk in the theater, be ready for an exceptionally strong combination of technical filmmaking, outstanding acting by the entire cast and simply stunning aerial cinematography. And don’t be surprised if you’re even more inspired by the true story of “Devotion” than the elaborate fictional hypersonic test flight and non-descript bad guys that keep “Top Gun: Maverick” in a close second place as the best aviation film in decades.