Devotion – J.T. Dillard’s Aerial Stunner Tribute is a thoughtful tribute to two of the most famous wingmen of the Korean War.

War dramas based on true stories are often an easy and accessible way to introduce audiences to their own history and heroes. Telling these stories, however, can be thorny when the hero is a black American veteran, as justifying his journey inevitably means grappling with challenges beyond wartime. These obstacles often represent pieces of American history that many people want to mine, even if doing so destroys the contributions of talented and courageous individuals. But when done right, it’s a story that can be a transformative experience. Director J.T. centers on Ensign Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors), the first black pilot to earn his wings in the US Navy’s basic flight training program. Dillard’s Devotion is that kind of movie. It focuses on Brown’s friendship with fellow Navy pilot Lt. Tom Hudner (Glenn Powell) in the early days of the war, which puts both their training and personal relationship to the test. For many moviegoers, the Top Gun trilogy shaped the way we relate to fighter pilot stories. This true story about top pilots offers a unique opportunity to replace this colorful fantasy with exciting reality. Besides, not all heroes wear capes. Some flew Voet F4U-4 Corsairs into North Korean airspace to save lives.



Based on the book of the same name, Devotion begins with Huttner, the last member of VF-32 Squadron, arriving at the base. He enters the team locker room just in time to grab the tail of Brown, who is yelling at him in the bathroom next door. Mimicking Brown’s vulnerabilities and anxious coping mechanisms, it’s a remarkable, if seemingly odd, introduction to the man that sets the stage for Majors’ deeply moving performance. Instead of following Brown to qualify as a fighter pilot, the story cuts to the events leading up to the attack that sparks the war between North and South Korea. It’s a smart decision that leads to a war story that focuses on the bonds between the men.

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Shortly after the meeting with Brown, other members of the group appeared. It’s a happy bunch that warmly welcomes Hudner — so on the surface, Brown’s aloof attitude is notable, not that he’s the only member of the black corps. He faces

Behind his stance, he’ll kick you in the gut. Dillard aptly combines the typical elements of a wartime film with dry wit and implicit devotion to each other’s peril. Devotion is not devoid of action, but the characters are not a vehicle for describing the stress-inducing tension and epicness of war.

Dillard keeps the lens right on the big ships while navigating dangerous situations as the only black pilot in the Navy. With restrained force, Majors deftly conveys that Brown is not easily persuaded. Although confident in his abilities, he openly tests the strength of his teammates. He rejects any attempt to “support” others when they insult or threaten him. Brown doesn’t want or need a savior, but he welcomes a friend he can trust. If Top Gun: Maverick reminds you of aviation movies, Dillard’s Korean War movie marries that promotional aerial footage and cockpit perspective with a true story that’s sure to change the way you think about the pilot. His wing. Fortunately, the script balances its on-air and off-air character exploration with intense action and thoughtful story progression.

Glenn Powell’s Tom Hudner, meanwhile, is not the audience’s proxy for “discovering” the reality of racism. It was 1950. While the loss of life may have forced the US military away from overt segregation and disenfranchisement of black service members, it did not mean their existence was immediately accepted. Anti-blackness and prejudice are everyday facts of life, and Powell portrays Hudner with a tenacity and believable innocence of the privileged. Learning about what motivated him to join the Navy captures his role on the team with relative clarity. It’s as much his story as it is Brown’s, because Hudner’s inability to understand why his teammate is so reluctant to trust him adds valuable perspective as their relationship progresses. Breaking down barriers and changing perspectives was (and still is) an inevitable byproduct of black people trying to live full lives in oppressive circumstances. It can become a cage. With this in mind, Bhakti does more than describe the relationship between Brown and Hudner’s white wingman.

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It’s clear that both Huttner and Brown are ace pilots. So watching the squadron’s first milestone — qualifying for a carrier landing — will be all the more exciting if it becomes clear that something other than his flying skills and mastery is hindering Brown’s performance. As you finally learn what’s bothering him, you can’t, like Hudner, turn away from the dark reality of the black experience in the world to avoid black people.

Dillard boldly rejects the laziness of relying on physical violence to reveal the damage that can be done to Brown as a result of racism.

Dillard’s narrative movement constantly layers in hostile encounters to highlight the prejudice Brown continues to face. An anonymous noise complaint brings the police to his family’s door. He was forced to pose for photos and was expected to parrot PR-ready quotes about his fight for reporters. Ingestion of racial slurs by marine on ship. Each incident establishes the reasons for Brown’s trust issues. Dillard boldly rejects the laziness of relying on physical violence to reveal the damage that can be done to Brown as a result of racism. The impact is even greater as Dillard works carefully to provide a balance of moments of respect, joy and camaraderie. This isn’t a story meant to portray everyone as racist, just as Brown doesn’t take it for granted that Brown wins despite the racist system at work. Hudner and other team members did not actively alienate Brown. They fail to consider the devastating impact that something seemingly insignificant to them could have on Brown. It is dangerous to choose a subtle and normal rather than a more striking version of discrimination. The pervasiveness and mediocrity of anti-Blackness makes people uncomfortable. This departure from the physically violent angle of being expected to leave the scene for work that makes the platoon grow as a unit gives the story its real impact. Because this, again, is Hudner’s story as much as Brown’s.


The first half of the film reveals Brown’s high-flying romance and family. Unlike his single counterparts, he is a devoted husband and father. His wife, Daisy (brought to life with delightful warmth and humor by Christina Jackson), is his anchor and safe harbor. Powell’s confident and charismatic Huttner serves as the perfect foil for Majors’ stoic intensity and restrained vulnerability. Huttner defied family expectations to join the military. He is a true believer, devoted to service. Each pilot finds common ground, even as they struggle to see up close. Dillard’s direction errs on the side of “showing” rather than “telling,” augmenting the unspoken with strategic dialogue between characters at critical moments in heavy data dump. The end result is a film that offers lessons in friendship and microaggression without falling out of its narrative pocket.

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By the time Battle of Devotion rolls around, you can’t help but be fully invested in this team. The aerial views, for all their spectacularity, have more than a hint of basic authenticity. Even with the action choreography, each member of this small ensemble makes the whole greater than its parts. So when the third act takes a tragic turn, the macro-elements of war and enemy involvement become real. There aren’t many modern stories built around the Korean War. Less puts racial dynamics front and center from a black man’s perspective. This may sound counterintuitive, but the refusal to deviate from the subject really creates room for a story of friendship between two men of different races that doesn’t become a shallow savior story at the expense of its subjects. Bhakti is a story of friendship, commitment and sincere connection that leaves no one behind. It’s full of painful twists, thrilling action and an optimism that never goes out of style.

Bhakti is a respectful introduction to the heroes the world should know and celebrate. J.T. Between Dillard’s thoughtful direction, Eric Messerschmidt’s stunning clarity of cinematography, compelling soundtrack and tight editing, this is a gritty drama ready to give even the best aerial war story a shot.

Devotion’s Jonathan Majors and Glenn Powell star as twins who become US Navy fighter pilots in JD Dillard’s wartime drama.

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Devotion: Release Date, Trailer, Cast And Everything You Need To Know

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