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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Devotion is a historical drama based on military historian Adam Makos' book about the real-life relationship between the first Black naval aviator, Ensign Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors), and his White squadron mate, Lieutenant Tom Hudner (Glen Powell), during the Korean War. The movie features wartime military action that leads to casualties due to aerial fights, ground fire, and anti-aircraft fire during a dangerous mission. American soldiers are wounded and die. In one case, a pilot dies when he crashes into the water instead of landing on an aircraft carrier. Many adult characters, both military and civilian, smoke cigarettes (historically accurate for the era), and sailors and soldiers drink and flirt their way through a short leave in France. An affectionate married couple is shown kissing, embracing, and dancing. Language is occasional but includes racial slurs (the "N" word, "monkey," "black ass," and more) as well as "s--t" and "damn." Families who watch together can talk about the historical context, the messages about the added challenges and overt racism that pioneering Black sailors and soldiers faced, and why this is a story not only about breaking the color line but also about friendship and dedication.
Great true story!
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What's the Story?
DEVOTION follows the story of how Ensign Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors), the United States' first Black naval aviator, forged a close friendship with his White wingman, Lieutenant Thomas Hudner (Glen Powell). At first, Jesse, who's originally from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, is apprehensive about Tom, a recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. But as they get to know each other, Tom proves that he's not a typical (i.e., racist) officer. Jesse, who keeps to himself, has a loving wife, Daisy (Christina Jackson), and baby girl back home, while serious-minded Tom is married to the job. In 1950, as part of the Navy's Fighter Squadron 32, they find themselves training with an F4U Corsair, a difficult-to-land plane. As they train and prepare for eventual deployment to the Korean War, the two form a trust that leads to a remarkable sacrifice in battle.
Is It Any Good?
Majors and Powell's performances elevate this biographical war drama about the United States' first Black Navy pilot into a touching character study. Working from Jake Crane and Jonathan Stewart's adaptation of Adam Makos' award-winning military history book, director J.D. Dillard creates a memorable tale of two heroes of the Forgotten War. While the movie can't capture all of the book's details, its nearly two-and-a-half-hour runtime does provide the highlights of Brown and Hudner's unique relationship, their shared devotion to duty, and the institutional racism that Brown faced in the desegregated military. Both Majors and Powell do excellent work, as does Jackson, who lights up every scene she's in as Jesse's sunny, supportive Daisy. Majors' portrayal is one of quiet intensity, of keeping his rage in check, of not being able to share the emotional load of being the only Black man in the crew with any of his mates. Thomas Sadoski stands out as the squadron's division leader Commander Dick Cevoli, and Canadian actress Serinda Swan memorably plays Elizabeth Taylor, whom the sailors meet while on leave in Cannes.
Although Devotion is a trifle overlong, the third act is tautly woven, with pulse-pounding action sequences -- including the climactic situation that's the main reason Brown and Hudner's story has survived for 70 years. The movie is reminiscent of an episode of the acclaimed limited series Band of Brothers, but with a narrower focus on two men and, to a lesser extent, their squadron mates. Because of his isolated status as the United States' first Black Navy fighter pilot (the Tuskegee Airmen were in the Army), Jesse is understandably uncomfortable being depicted by military press as the Jackie Robinson of the Navy. He just wants to serve his nation and return to his girls. Hudner, meanwhile, is depicted in his interactions with Jesse as at times conflicted and well-intentioned, but also clueless -- until he finally starts seeing Jesse as a whole person. Chanda Dancy's powerful score is accompanied by a touching original ballad, "Not Alone," from Joe Jonas (who co-stars as Marty Goode, another member of the 32) and Khalid. Brown was undeniably alone as the sole Black pilot in his squadron, but Hudner had his back and refused to let him go without a fight.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the violence in Devotion. Is it necessary to the story? Does realistic military violence impact viewers differently than stylized or fantasy violence does?
Discuss the role that race and racism played in Jesse Brown's naval career. Why was he reluctant to be written about for being a Black aviator? What made his relationship with Tom Hudner special?
Who was fighting in the Korean War, and why? How does the movie explain why countries like China and the United States were involved? Where could you learn more about the "Forgotten War"? If you've read the book the movie was based on, how does the movie compare?
Whom do you consider a role model in the story? What character strengths do they demonstrate? Why are courage, integrity, perseverance, and teamwork important?
Jesse is shown preparing for a difficult mission by using extremely negative self-talk in a mirror. Do you think that's a healthy way to motivate? Why, or why not?
- In theaters: November 23, 2022
- On DVD or streaming: January 8, 2023
- Cast: Jonathan Majors, Glen Powell, Christina Jackson
- Director: J.D. Dillard
- Studio: Columbia Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, History
- Character Strengths: Courage, Integrity, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 139 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: strong language, some war action/violence, and smoking
- Award: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: January 8, 2023
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