DEVOTION delivers an endearing story with heart, but the unevenly paced screenplay lacks the gravitas to be truly impactful or memorable. Unfortunately, this Naval Air Force biographical drama arrives on the tailwinds of Top Gun: Maverick, to which it will undoubtedly get compared (though they are different). It’s a decent film with an important, historical story to tell, but the film is held back by the lack of strategic focus and the competing story threads.
Elite fighter pilots Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors) and Tom Hudner (Glen Powell) become the U.S. Navy’s most celebrated wingmen during the Korean War.
We cannot discuss this film without addressing the white elephant in the room, the wildly popular, critical and box office smash hit Top Gun: Maverick. Both films feature character-driven stories in the Air Force, one fictional, while the other is biographical. Funnily, both feature Glen Powell in a central role. Speaking of casting, Devotion has a solid cast, but often times, neither the lead nor supporting characters are given much to do.
Even though I was unfamiliar with this true story prior to watching the film, it certainly seems to have hit all the factual points (which–don’t get me wrong–is important in a biographical drama), but the facts of the account never fully manifest into a cinematic story. Furthermore, there are three competing story threads, each vying to be the main outside/action story (1) the Korean War mission (2) the friendship between Tom and Jesse and (3) the relationship between Jesse and his family. Underscoring each of these is the inside/emotional story of Jesse’s professional and psychological struggles being the first person of color in the Naval Air Force.
The screenplay lacks focus, lacks direction. None of the outside/actions stories ever emerges as the main (or A-story). In an effort to dramatize everything that was going on in Jesse’s life professionally and personally, the screenplay never completely landed on any one of them. Because of this lack of focus, audiences will likely experience difficulty in connecting with any one of the characters; empathize? Yes. Truly connect? Therein lies the struggle.
Compared to the cinematography and editing of Maverick, Devotion noticeably struggles. Regrettably, this struggle would have been less noticeable had both films not been released in the same year (and yes I am aware Maverick experienced delays due to shuttered theatres and mitigated operations from 2020–2021). As much as I tried to separate the two films, Maverick was such an incredible film that it’s nearly impossible to evaluate them independent of one another.
Devotion is a middle of the road film, from technical achievement and screenwriting perspectives. It’s neither bad nor great; because it has an important story to tell, and it’s clear that everyone’s hearts were in the right place, it does make for a good film, but one that won’t likely stick with you as long as Maverick did.
Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.
Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1