“Inspired by the global threats of the Second World War, the U.S. Navy welcomes a surge of aspiring aviators ready to fight in what they called The Big Show. But now it’s 1950, and after five years of peace, a true conflict is growing at the North and South Korean border. This is a story from America’s forgotten war.”
One of the best things about this job is that we get to see some of the up-and-coming talents as they evolve into superstars. I was lucky enough this week to get a double dose of one of the most dynamic young stars out there. Of course I’m talking about Jonathan Majors, who plays US Navy aviator and hero Jesse Brown. Just one night after watching the UHD/4K disc for this review, I was treated to my second dose of Majors at a press screening for the upcoming Creed III, where Majors plays the antagonist Damien Anderson. The roles could not have been more different, and Majors stole every scene in both films. I already can’t wait to see him once again. I missed our screening of the new Ant-Man & Wasp film, so I have his portrayal of Kang to look forward to. The buzz I heard was that he had been the best part of the film, and I believe it after Devotion and Creed III. I’m sure there’ll be more to say about this talented young actor, but let’s talk about Devotion out on UHD Blu-ray in 4K from Paramount.
Jesse Brown (Majors) is the first black pilot in the U.S. Navy. It hasn’t been a lot of glory, and he does routine work while providing for his wife and young daughter. He pretty much keeps his head down and does his job. He’s grown used to the treatment the times offers a black man in 1950. But he’s fought his way through the racism and takes his place among the elite. When Lt. Tom Hudner (Powell) shows up, he’s pretty much expecting the same treatment. He’s rather cool toward the new man, but over time the two start to develop a relationship of respect when they are teamed up as wing-mates. Their days of routine are also about to come to an end. The Cold War warms a bit when the Soviets test an American-designed atomic bomb, and soon Chinese communists are at the head of a North Korean invasion of South Korea. These are pilots with no combat experience now thrown into a bloody conflict with new planes that they are testing for the first time. But this isn’t really a story about war. War merely provides the backdrop to a compelling character study of Brown, who would become a hero, and the relationship between these unlikely brothers in arms.
If you’re looking for Top Gun style aerial dogfights, I have some good news and some bad news for you. The bad news goes along with my previous statement. The film isn’t really about that. The film relies on the performances and chemistry between Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell. There’s a lot of downtime here that’s all character. The good news is that when these planes are in the air, be it combat or something more routine, the aerial cinematography is handled by one Kevin LaRosa, who handled the same duties on Top Gun: Maverick last year. These shots are absolutely beautiful. The film crew found and restored, often by taking away their museum luster, actual Corsairs. The cast includes Glen Powell, who is actually a pilot, and who also starred in Maverick as Hangman. These are actual actors up in real planes being photographed by drones, choppers, and other aircraft. The actors went through some training so that they could perform some of the actual flying. It’s truly an incredible film to see, and the only way to fly is through a UHD/4K release. Of course, this is pre-jets, so the aircraft don’t quite torch the sky like they did in the Top Gun films, but what they lack in speed they more than fill in with grace.
I can’t say enough about the performances. Even up against such eye candy as the beautiful aerial shots are Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell. The performances have a great amount of heart. The chemistry between the two starts off quite shaky and quickly becomes magical as the real-life relationship became. The film was based on the book written by Adam Makos, whose grandfather served in World War II. He’s a noted writer in this field, and the authenticity doesn’t end with the book. Director J.D. Dillard knows more than a thing or two about military aviation. His father was a Blue Angels pilot. Actor Glen Powell also felt a personal connection to this story and was the one who obtained the film rights to get this film literally off the ground. You can’t fake this stuff, and the entire cast and crew reek of aviation fuel.
Devotion is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.20:1. The ultra-high-definition image presentation is arrived at with an HEVC codec at an average of 70 mbps. The film was shot in native 4K. You’re going to love everything about this ultra-high-definition image presentation. I’ve already talked a bit about it, but it deserves repeating here. The aerial photography is flawless. With the HDR color and contrast boosts, you will literally feel like you’re up there with these pilots. The sky is so bright and blue with perfectly natural white cloud formations. The detail on the planes and the pilots themselves is showcase stuff here. Black levels don’t really connect a ton here, but when they do, you’ll find inky blacks with incredible contrast and shadow definition. Textures are impressive from the uniforms to the surfaces of these aircraft. There’s no push or artifact here because of the native 4K source material. The picture is smooth and about as flawless as it gets.
The DTS-HD 5.1 audio presentation does its job well. I won’t lie here. This release deserves an Atmos or at least 7.1 surround presentation, and I’m disappointed that it doesn’t get it. With that said, there’s still a lot to love here. Just as with the image, the sensation is quite immersive. The surrounds really give you the entire experience from wind, engine hums, and the explosive action of the dogfights. That’s where the subs join in to rock your world a little. The dialog cuts through just fine even with the masked voices of the pilots in combat. The score delivers the emotional beats, and the positioning of it all is rather extraordinary. Still, Paramount, why no Atmos here?
There is no Blu-ray copy here, and the extras don’t amount to a lot of running time, allowing it to be used effectively on the film’s bit-rate.
The Aviation Of A Forgotten War: (11:17) The cast and crew spend a lot of time telling us how the project came to be. There were a lot of moving parts to getting it made, and you’ll get the high points here for sure. There’s also some good info on the aircraft and how much of the aerial photography was achieved.
The Legacy Of Jesse Brown: (12:02) Here we get a good look at both the character in the film and the real man. Cast and crew offer some nice insights into both.
There haven’t been many films shot about the Korean War. Most of our film and television experience with the conflict comes the popular film and iconic television series M*A*S*H. This might be the most serious attempt at the Korean War for at least a decade or two. It’s not called the Forgotten War for nothing. But I promise you’ll walk away feeling like you’ve seen something very different from any war film you’ve ever encountered. Something truly new doesn’t come around these parts very often. This is Jesse Brown’s story, and one that deserves … no, needs to be told, and I implore you to give it a chance. “You want a prayer? God send us some angels.”