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Film / Devotion (2022)

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A 2022 American biographical war drama directed by JD Dillard that follows two fighter pilots (Glen Powell and Jonathan Majors) during their time in the Korean War.

In early 1950, as conflict looms with the Soviet Union, US Navy Lieutenant Tom Hudner (Powell) transfers from piloting AD Skyraider attack planes to Fighter Squadron 32 in Rhode Island. There, he's paired up with Ensign Jesse Brown (Majors), the first black man ever to become a US naval aviator. Brown is standoffish with him at first, but Hudner wins him over as the unit switches from F8F Bearcats to F4U-4 Corsairs and deploys to Europe to saber-rattle against the Warsaw Pact... only for the Reds to pull a Bait-and-Switch when war breaks out even further east in Korea.

The movie also stars Christina Jackson, Joe Jonas, Thomas Sadowski, Serinda Swan, Daren Kagasoff, Dean Denton, Joseph Cross, and Spencer Neville.

It was released on September 12, 2022 at the Toronto International Film Festival, moving to theaters on November 23.

Tropes used in Devotion include:

  • Airstrike Impossible: During the Yalu River mission, the Navy fliers are ordered not to return fire against the north bank, lest attacking Chinese soil bring the Soviet Union into the war. Ack-ack from the north bank forces the AD Skyraiders to break off before they can bomb the second bridge, so Jesse defies Tom's orders and makes a zero-altitude attack run through the Chinese flak to blow the bridge himself with his last pair of rockets.
  • Bar Brawl: A racist Marine officer assigned to USS Leyte takes a dislike to Brown early on, which is compounded when Brown inadvertently embarrasses him in front of Elizabeth Taylor at a casino in Cannes. After Hudner and Brown leave to find a bar that will serve the latter, the Marines show up and immediately pick a fight.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The 1st Marine Division—including some of the jarheads that Jesse and Tom clashed with earlier in the film—are pinned down by the People's Liberation Army at the Chosin Reservoir and one of them prays for "angels". Not a moment later, they hear the drone of VF-32's engines, and the Corsairs swoop out of the sky and unload rockets and machine guns on the Chinese army, breaking the back of the attack.
  • Central Theme: Devotion. Brown is devoted to his wife Daisy, and devoted to his calling as a naval aviator. Daisy asks Hudner to look after her husband while they're at sea, and Cevoli expounds on the importance of bringing everyone back.
    Daisy: I can't protect him anymore. So I need you to be there for my Jesse. Okay?"
    Hudner: Okay.
    • The film's climax focuses on the efforts of Hudner and Alabama Ward to rescue Brown from his wrecked Corsair. Hudner ditches his plane so he can get to Brown, and Ward volunteers to fly in with his rescue chopper despite the nearby enemy troops and coming darkness.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Hudner's wool cap that Brown teased him for in Rhode Island comes in handy when Hudner loans it to him to keep warm with in Korea.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Alabama Ward, Jesse Brown's friend from flight school, is introduced midway through the film flying a medevac helicopter. He overhears Cevoli calling for help over the radio after Brown and Hudner go down and volunteers to fly in after them, despite it being almost nightfall.
  • Cool Old Guy: Commander Cevoli is a veteran of The Big Show and spends most of his time on screen training and mentoring the younger pilots to prepare them for war.
  • Cool Plane: The movie features the Grumman F 8 F Bearcat, the Vought F4U-4 Corsair, the Douglas AD Skyraider, a Sikorski HO5S-1, a Douglas DC-3, and a MiG-15, and much of the filming was done with surviving warbirds.
  • Danger Deadpan: During the Yalu River mission, the lead Skyraider pilot speaks in a low growl even while making a bombing run while taking Anti-Air fire.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: It's 1950, so the fact that Jesse is black presents him significant problems. He recalls being made to take his swimming test at the Academy ten times, with the instructors deliberately sabotaging him on later attempts to keep him from passing. At one point, they put weights in his flight suit and might've even tried to drown him. He also implies that he's experienced severe racism on his journey to becoming a naval aviator.
  • Declaration of Protection: Hudner promises Daisy he'll look after Brown for her while they're away. His protectiveness of his wingman actually causes a fair amount of conflict because Brown stands to lose a lot if his well-meaning comrades escalate a confrontation with a racist.
    • Releasing from the Promise: At the end of the film, Daisy assures Hudner that he didn't fail to keep his promise because she never asked him to protect her husband, only to be with him, which he did far beyond anyone could have asked him to.
  • Due to the Dead: When Mohring dies in a crash, Brown takes it upon himself to write a letter for his family, and packs up Mohring's belongings so they can be shipped home. He also gets in an argument with Hudner when the latter comments on the mistake Mohring made that led to his death. Later, after Brown is killed, the rest of the squadron launches to bomb the crash site both to prevent the plane from being recovered by the enemy, and to give their friend a final send-off.
  • The Film of the Book: Based on Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice by Adam Makos.
  • Great Offscreen War: World War II, AKA "The Big Show," which most of the cast trained for but weren't able to serve in: Tom applied to the Naval Academy after Pearl Harbor and was a month away from graduation when Japan surrendered.
  • Historical Domain Character:
    • Ensign Jesse Brown, first African-American naval aviator. Sort of: technically Oscar Holmes was the first, having gotten in during WWII due to a bureaucratic mistake, but he never saw combat, and Brown was the first black man to pass US Navy flight officer training (Holmes was given a bye because he had flight experience as a civilian).
    • Lt. Tom Hudner, officer and naval aviator.
    • Elizabeth Taylor, American actress that Brown and Hudner run into.
    • Harry S. Truman, President of the United States.
    • The pilots of VF-32 were all based on real members of the unit, as was the Leyte's captain, Captain Sisson.
  • Hollywood History: Hudner and Brown manage to take down a MiG-15 a few months before they first saw service in Korea. A Corsair would successfully shoot down a Mi G-15 a few years later in the war, piloted by USMC Captain Jesse Folmar.
  • Honor Before Reason: Hudner's over-protective instincts cause problems for him and Brown throughout the film, but his decision to crash-land his fighter plane to help his downed wingman definitely takes the cake.
  • In-Series Nickname: "Widowmaker" and "Ensign Eliminator" for the F4U Corsair, which it earned honestly in real life due to being unusually difficult to land for inexperienced pilots, due to a combination of poor visibility over the nose and an engine that could put out a tremendous amount of torque if accelerated too quickly, an easy mistake for a pilot to make if aborting a landing at low speed and altitude.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: As an infamously unforgiving aircraft to fly, the Corsair was dubbed the "Ensign Eliminator" and "Widowmaker" by pilots.
  • N-Word Privileges: Despite the time period, the black Jesse is the only character to use the N-word in the film, albeit repeating insults he had received from white men.
  • Old-School Dogfight: Between Tom, Jesse, and a North Korean Air Force MiG-15 that buzzes the strike group hitting the Yalu River bridges. Tom and Jesse break off to go after it, only for the MiG to hide in the clouds and get behind them, forcing Jesse to lead it on a Canyon Chase so that Tom can get in front and shoot it down.
  • Old Master: Subverted example in Commander Cevoli, who is a decorated veteran of World War II and fills the role of an old-school sage, but is in fact only a few years older than the rookie pilots, who were mostly born just a bit too late to be able to serve in the war.
  • One-Word Title: Devotion.
  • Period Piece: Takes place during the early days of the Korean War.
  • Rock Beats Laser:
    • VF-32's first mission once they reach Korea is to suppress air defenses so that an AD Skyraider squadron can take out two bridges across the Yalu River and slow the PLA's advance. The all-prop plane strike group is jumped by a next-generation MiG-15 jet fighter, which Jesse and Tom break off to go after. Jesse leads the MiG on a merry Canyon Chase while Tom sneaks around the outside and lets Jesse lead it into his guns.
    • Near the end of the film, Jesse's Corsair is taken out by a hit to his engine from a random potshot from a Chinese sniper, which causes the fatal oil leak.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Ensign Mohring, who dies due to pilot error during a routine landing in the notoriously difficult Corsair.
  • Shown Their Work: Despite its iconic status, the F4U Corsair really was that infamously difficult to land for exactly the reasons depicted in the film: the same overpowered engine that made it one of the fastest naval prop fighters ever built, also made it prone to flipping if you gunned the engine too hard. Coupled with the cockpit being positioned unusually far back and giving it a big blind spot below the nose—dictated by the placement of the main fuel tank in front of the cockpit—it was extremely tricky to land. Jesse has to touch-and-go on his first try at the carrier landing test, and Mohring spins out and fatally crashes in the water.
    • The tactic of one plane luring its pursuer into the gunsights of their wingman is a staple of air combat maneuvering. The pursuer is forced to choose between disengaging or obligingly flying into the wingman's guns, assuming they notice the wingman in time.
    • A pair of Bearcats are shown taxiing in a zig-zag pattern early in the film. This is a common technique used by tail-dragger planes, as they can't see over the nose of the plane to see what is in front of them while the plane is resting on all three landing gear. By zig-zagging, the pilots can look to their left and right to make sure the path is clear ahead of them.
  • The Teetotaler: Jesse doesn't drink alcohol for the entire runtime of the film, not even when his squadron-mates are toasting the late Ensign Mohring. Lampshaded when his wife Daisy offers Tom a beer at their house: on Tom's question, she clarifies that Jesse doesn't drink, but she does.
  • Title Drop: Sort of. Near the end of the film, Brown signs off on a letter to his wife Daisy with "Your Devoted Husband," although the film itself is more about the professional and personal relationship between Hudner and Brown and Hudner's determined-but-doomed efforts to try and save Brown after he is shot down.
  • Trailers Always Lie: The trailer heavily plays up the air combat scenes and makes it seem much more like a standard gung-ho war movie. The film is actually a rather quiet character drama for the most part, and they don't even go to Korea until over halfway through.
  • Veteran Instructor: Cevoli does everything in his power to prepare his men for war, and continues playing the role of the mentor until the end of the film.
  • You Are in Command Now: A non-lethal example: at the start of the Yalu River mission, Commander Cevoli's landing gear refuses to retract after takeoff, so he hands command of the Corsair wing over to Tom and returns to the carrier for the duration.
  • War Is Hell: Cevoli makes it abundantly clear to his men that they must train rigorously if they hope to survive in combat, and doesn't downplay the emotional impact of losing friends to combat or crashes. Rather than becoming a grizzled Drill Sergeant Nasty or a Shell-Shocked Veteran, he seems to make the conscious choice to effect a warm cheerful disposition, as he has seen what happens to men who let war define them.
  • Wild Weasel: The Corsairs fill this role during the attack on the bridgehead at the Yalu River, launching rockets to surpress Anti-Air positions.
  • Wingman: Brown is Hudner's wingman in the air, but Hudner takes on this role on the ground.

Alternative Title(s): Devotion