Fly us to Cannes soon, let us play among the film stars. Director J.D. Dillard's biographical war drama Devotion will take you to the skies and beautiful French vistas, too, as it adapts a book of the same name by Adam Makos, written for the screen by Jake Crane and Jonathan A.H. Stewart. The film follows the lives and careers of Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors), who was the first African-American aviator to graduate the U.S. Navy's program in still segregated America, and Tom Hudner (Glen Powell), two of them forming a friendship as fighter pilots serving in the Navy during the Korean War. They're part of a team that eventually gets to fight in Korea in 1950, leading to dangerous and difficult missions over there while Jesse leaves behind his wife Daisy (Christina Jackson) and their daughter.
For both better and worse, Dillard and writers start developing their story when Jesse and Tom meet for the first time, which is right before they're then sent away. There's a lot of charm for viewers to appreciate, mainly because Majors and Powell have such good chemistry when framed together. This builds solid arcs for both of their characters since Tom is smartly used to reveal layers of Jesse with every scene, whether that reveals his warmth that he can't show otherwise, or some of his motivation that comes from anger beneath the surface which he doesn't use to retaliate despite experiencing ugly shades of racism. Some of their motivations are left unexplored which does get in the way during the final act when the film is trying to reach its emotional climax, and that's even if you're like me and didn't know anything about the true story.
Another side of that coin is that Devotion's structure does chip away connections made elsewhere, such as Jesse's life at home where scenes feel rushed which is why sacrifices he makes can be forgotten once action kicks in. Those technical achievements are just on another level compared to the script, one highlight being an intense rescue mission towards the end where DoP Erik Messerschmidt's carefully moving camera, sound and visual effects—which are impressive throughout—come together in an astounding way to grab you and create a memorable sequence. It's one of those moments where you can see Dillard's vision clear as day but you also wish that there'd be more of that vision elsewhere or on the page to separate the parts of this movie more clearly. For now, they just blend together and are easily digestible.
Smileys: VFX, acting
Magic tricks? This guy is just winging it.