A Brief History
On November 23, 2022, American audiences will have the opportunity to see a new motion picture we got to pre-screen the other day, a Korean War era historical/biographical film about the first African American Naval aviator, a man named Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors), touching on the struggles with racism in the recently integrated US military as well as his loving family and devoted White friend, fellow pilot Tom Hudner.
Devotion features thrilling flight scenes of US Navy fighter aircraft in peacetime and in combat, which for me was portrayed in brilliant cinematic fashion, though not quite historically perfect detail. (The F6F Bearcat fighters are actually trainer airplanes made to look like Bearcats, and the job the filmmakers did is fantastic.) The effects are astounding compared to what I grew up seeing on film. As an aircraft and aviation enthusiast, I would have like much more flight scenes, especially combat scenes. The F4U Corsair fighters shown in the combat scenes are truly beautiful airplanes, sleek and menacing looking as they really were. (A minor note: In actual combat the external fuel tanks would have been dropped before making bombing, rocket and strafing runs. A minor detail most movie goers will either not notice or care about.)
Director J. D. Dillard comes from a Navy family, which probably helped the authentic feel of Navy life injected into the film. Without an extensive resume, we believe Dillard’s excellent directing of Devotion will land him accolades and thus more top notch movie projects. The film is based on the 2017 book by Adam Makos, Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice, hence the source of the movie title.
A large part of the film is character background and development, though not into the early life of the main character, Jesse, concentrating more on the brief flying career he had after completing flight qualification and active service. While touching on the racial hurdles faced by Jesse and presumably the African American pilots that followed him, the film does not dwell on the subject to any great extent, at least not in graphic detail, although it does show at least some racially oriented animosity toward Jesse. Contrasting the racial animosity toward integrating the service, is the deep friendship and respect between Jesse and Tom and also the acceptance and respect of his fellow pilots. The African American crew members of the aircraft carrier Jesse is assigned to are shown to be deeply moved by the historic achievement of Jesse becoming a qualified Naval Aviator.
Casting and acting is superb. Not only for the main characters, but even for marginal ones, including a surprisingly excellent depiction of Elizabeth Taylor, even capturing her famously Violet eyes.
Without providing a spoiler to the film, the ending is involved in the desperate combat of Korea in 1950, when aviators such as Jesse and Tom provided life saving close air support for the Soldiers and Marines on the rugged ground. The heroics performed by the real life pilots are displayed in fantastic form in the film, including the climatic scenes of the events that earned Jesse a Distinguished Flying Cross and Tom the Medal of Honor.
A highly emotional film, the audience felt all the right intentions of the director and the ending came with a moderate applause from the theater, something we do not often experience anymore. Many in the audience, including this reviewer, were deeply touched by the emotion of the film making it rank with such war themed movies as Saving Private Ryan. Many audience members seemed to have tears welling in their eyes, and appropriately so.
Devotion is an excellent film, well made, colorful and clear, with a personal connection to this reviewer, as having served on US Navy amphibious aircraft carriers and having a father and father in law that served in the Korean War. While the film is not inappropriate for kids, younger ones may not appreciate the subtleties of what is transpiring in the movie. We think the vast majority of film goers will find Devotion to be an excellent movie and perhaps a moving experience.
Question for students (and subscribers): What is your favorite US Navy combat aircraft? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Doyle, David. Corsair: Vought’s F4U in World War II and Korea. Schiffer Military, 2018.
Makos, Adam. Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Brotherhood and Sacrifice. Atlantic Books, 2017.
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