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Devotion TIFF Review: An Inspiring Real-Life Top Gun

Devotion at TIFF

Naval aviators are in this year, with Top Gun: Maverick being the highest-grossing film of 2022 (so far). Those who are still feeling the need for speed will certainly want to check out Devotion — another naval aviator film, but this one based on the true story of an extraordinary man who defeated the odds to earn his place in the sky.

The film tells the story of Jesse Brown, the first African-American aviator to complete the U.S. Navy’s basic flight training program. Like so many stories of legendary African-Americans, this is one that has largely gone undiscussed in history books, but Brown’s story will no longer go under the radar if Devotion has anything to say about it.

The fact that the film is based on such an extraordinary true story comes as a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it allows the film to be extremely inspiring, and in a way that largely does not feel like pro-military propaganda. However, it also has to stick to the truth of the action and it’s perhaps not as high-octane as a film like this demands.

There is no denying that director J.D. Dillard, cinematography Erik Messerschmidt, and the entire stunts and visual effects team did an extraordinary job of creating realistic action that is believable. However, the sad truth of the matter is that the film peaks early, with a bomb run that happens about halfway through the film being the most exciting scene in the entire runtime.

Jonathan Majors and Glenn Powell in Devotion
Image Courtesy of TIFF.

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One of the main things that this film gets right is focusing on the relationship between Brown and his wingman, Tom Hudner. The filmmakers knew that this was predominantly Brown’s story, so they did not let Hudner’s character overshadow him at all, but the deep friendship that formed between them was an excellent way to make the audience sympathize with both of them.

Jonathan Majors plays Brown in the film, and this film proves that he is a fantastic leading man. His performances in The Last Black Man in San Francisco and Da 5 Bloods garnered him much critical acclaim, but Devotion is the film that will push him into the spotlight with the general public. He radiates charisma in every moment of his performance, but also feels extremely restrained and sensitive.

His co-star, Glen Powell, is also exceptional, although Powell may want to watch out or risk getting typecast as the go-to for military movies. However, unlike his cocky swagger in Top Gun: Maverick, Powell here plays the character in a much more approachable way, having an extremely good rapport with Majors and making the film tick.

It may be unfortunate that Devotion came out this year, because it’s undeniably going to be compared to Top Gun: Maverick and isn’t quite on the same level. Still, it’s a pretty impressive, inspiring film in its own right and will likely win over audiences just as easily when it is released in theaters this fall. 9/10.

Devotion screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, which ran September 8-18.

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Written by Sean Boelman

Film Critic and member of the CACF.