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Movie Review: ‘Devotion’ is Predictable, but Continues the Rise of Jonathan Majors

Movie Review: ‘Devotion’ is Predictable, but Continues the Rise of Jonathan Majors

Director: J.D. Dillard

Writer: Jake Crane, Jonathan A. Stewart. 

Stars: Jonathan Majors, Glen Powell, Christina Jackson, Joe Jonas, and Thomas Sadoski. 

Synopsis: A pair of U.S. Navy fighter pilots risk their lives during the Korean War and become some of the Navy’s most celebrated wingmen.

Let’s not beat around the bush: Jonathan Majors is a star. Don’t be surprised when he will predictably win an Oscar a few years from now. And he proves, once again, why that will be the case with his magnifying performance as Ensign Jessie Brown in Devotion. He carries every scene he’s in with massive emotional weight and makes the film a worthwhile watch.

The movie itself isn’t as interesting as director J.D. Dillard thinks it is, and it’s partly because it has no sense of pace. In Devotion, the movie chronicles how Brown befriended Lieutenant Tom Hudner (Glen Powell), one of the best examples of resilience during the Korean War. The first hour and a half is a huge exposition dump, chronicling the mission itself, how Brown befriends Hudner, training for the war, and a side plot in Cannes that slows the pace down to a halt. 

There are a few memorable scenes inside that hour and a half, but most of it feels amazingly languishing, especially the stint in Cannes where Brown meets actress Elizabeth Taylor (Serinda Swan). That entire scene goes on for way too long and adds very little impact to neither the story at hand, nor the characters. We want to care about Brown and Hudner, but the film doesn’t give us many sequences where we can attach ourselves to their relationship, save for Hudner promising Brown’s wife (Christina Jackson) that he will always take care of him, no matter what everyone else thinks. 

It would be crazy to compare Devotion with Top Gun: Maverick, another aerial film which came out earlier this year (and also starring Glen Powell), but there are many similarities with Joseph Kosinski’s sequel to J.D. Dillard’s biopic, especially with how it is structured. The first half is the training section, where we’re supposed to attach ourselves to the team, but the movie gives very little moments of “team bonding,” or tension between them. The supporting cast is mostly forgettable, especially Joe Jonas, who makes his big screen debut in a major motion picture, and yet, can’t be distinguished from everyone else. Every single side character is a chain-smoking, womanizing pilot. None of them have different traits, like in Top Gun: Maverick, where everyone has distinct personalities and abilities. 

Since the movie focuses solely on Brown’s relationship with Hudner, there is no friendship, or character dynamic, being built around the team. And while Majors and Powell are the true driving forces of the movie, it isn’t necessarily the biggest flaw, but still remains a problem when you have to attach yourself to a team of pilots who can die at any second in the field of war. When a specific side character dies after his plane malfunctions, the scene doesn’t hit as much as when Goose dies in Top Gun, because we don’t know much about the characters who populate the film’s environment, save for Brown and Hudner. 

And when the movie starts to kick into gear with high-stakes action, it feels too little, too late to save it. Even if composer Chanda Dancy adds lots of emotional weight to the action sequences, and cinematographer  Erik Messerschmidt has a keen eye for visceral, albeit CGI-driven, visual flourishes, the character investment isn’t as strong as other aerial movies. As such, it’s hard to get invested into Devotion’s climactic setpieces, even as admirably shot and directed as they are. 

Because of this, Devotion doesn’t have the impact it should have, even if Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell give powerhouse performances. They’re the true stars of the picture, especially Majors, whose next few roles in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Creed III will propel him to stardom even further than his tenure in Da 5 Bloods, Lovecraft Country, and The Harder They Fall. With Devotion, Jonathan Majors continues to prove that he is one to watch, and will win an Academy Award much sooner than everyone anticipated

 

Grade: C+

 

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