Jonathan Majors Proves He’s a Star in War Drama ‘Devotion’

Forget epic aerial cinematography and claustrophobic airplane sequences, the real reason to watch Dedication in IMAX is Jonathan Majorsthe face. The Emmy-nominated actor (Lovecraft Country) gets a scene early on in which his character Jesse Brown, based on the true story of the US Navy’s very first black aviator, addresses himself in the mirror with the despicable and racist comments he’s heard all his life. life. He notes each of them in a notebook, then confronts them regularly, head-on. Here is a man at war with himself, fighting against the hatred of the world around him. The fury, desperation and strength on Majors face, projected onto a giant uncut screen, is big enough to feel life or death.

Dedication, in that regard, seems somewhat odd for a movie backed and distributed by Hollywood giant Sony Pictures. (It hits theaters Nov. 23.) Early marketing would say diehards Top Gun: Maverick fans that they’re here for an encore here, and to some degree, of course, JD DillardThe brawny biopic scratches this fighter pilot with panache. But until his last high-flying act, Dedication, which premiered Monday night at the Toronto International Film Festival, plays like a relatively intimate drama. Between the Beats You’d Expect From Any War Movie – Leaving Home, The Male Bond, The Ultimate Sacrifice – Dillard and the Screenwriters Jake Crane and Jonathan A. Stewart outline a thematically richer, if less engrossing, character study.

We meet Brown as, naturally, the only one in the room. The Korean War is heating up, fresh out of World War II, and he was welcomed among the Navy pilots destined to fight there solely on the basis of their skill and reputation. All eyes are immediately on him; like him and the rest of the group, notably Lieutenant Tom Hudner (Glen Powell, do dual pilot duty after-maverick) – a little closer to combat during the war, Brown is treated as anything from a Navy prop to an unwanted mascot. The film deftly infuses fight movie clichés with an understanding of what it means for a black pilot – the first, in fact – to drive the action. His first flight sequence, for example, sees Brown’s colleagues staring at him in awe and terror, holding their breath for him to land safely; but a vivid shot captures a group of black sailors standing together, in a sort of nervous pride. The fact that he does this means a lot to them, and the fact that he does it right would mean even more.

By Eli Ade/Columbia Pictures.

Which it does, of course; Brown and Hudner are credited with changing the course of the Korean War on a dangerous mission. (I’ll avoid spoilers as to how.) Dedication takes its hero’s abilities a bit at face value. He is a one-of-a-kind pilot, his only limit being the racism of the time. Dillard wisely acknowledges the realities of the time without letting them define Brown; instead, we meet a man who has learned to navigate the system and move on. He doesn’t drink. He defends himself calmly. He lets his abilities speak for themselves. But he doesn’t always do what he’s told, because he’s learned, as a black man growing up in Jim Crow America, that he can’t always do what he’s told. The bridge is stacked against him.

Dedicationthe outlines of remain fairly conventional and, plot-wise, unsurprising; you need a great actor to sell such a difficult and complex portrayal. Luckily, Majors does wonders with the genre – the horror fantasies of Lovecraft Countrythe western gun The more they fall. He knows how to take the familiar and make it his own. And he never felt more like a star. In Dedication, he brings that effortless swagger, that charismatic fierceness to hold the thing together. The grief that lines the edges of his performance only adds more dimension. (Kudos to Powell too for finding nuance in a different type of role than his maverick punch.)

Because Dedication can’t fully engage as thorny character drama – this is, after all, a studio movie that needs to end with plenty of fighter pilot fireworks – the broader scope of the film may seem slight. The script takes a long detour to Cannes for an evening at the casino with Elizabeth Taylor (played by Serinda Swan), which does not center Brown; the scenes of the pilots in town, bonding and drinking are dulled by the strong chemistry between Majors and Powell, as it is so much more fully realized than what we see among the larger group. (However Joe Jonas, like one of those pilots, shines in a few short, fun moments.) Dedication can’t quite make the connection between Brown’s story and that of Korean War-era pilots in general, and so the tone swings between the two, admirably, if not always elegantly.

About Theresa Burton

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