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 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.