The film Devotion is based on the actual tale of the first Black pilot in the United States Navy, Jesse Brown, and his wingman, Tom Hudner, during the Korean War, and this is a review of the film’s strengths and weaknesses.
The film is based on Adam Makos’s 2015 novel Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice. This novel is a fictionalized account of the friendship between Jesse and Tom, two naval officers who served together in Korea.
The events shown in the film Devotion, including Jesse’s untimely demise and Tom’s heroic attempts to save him, are mostly faithful to the actual events. Starring Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country) as Jesse Brown and Glen Powell (Top Gun: Maverick) as Tom Hudner, Devotion has a stellar ensemble cast.
Joe Jonas, Christina Jackson, Thomas Sadoski, and Daren Kagasoff also make cameo appearances. Devotion takes place in the early 1950s when Tom is assigned to Fighter Squadron 32 and meets Ensign Jesse Brown, the sole African American member of the squadron.
The two hit it off immediately, and the film chronicles their friendship all the way through Jesse’s struggles with prejudice, combat, and his terrible death at the hands of a Chinese anti-aircraft gunner. Listed below are the several ways in which the film diverges from the actual events surrounding Jesse Brown.
The question everyone wants to be answered is: how true to life is this film?
Powell was right in his assessment that Hudner wouldn’t be able to save Brown on their final Korean War mission together. To rescue a group of Marines who had become surrounded by the enemy, they and other pilots were sent to the Chosin Reservoir.
After taking fire from the enemy, Brown’s jet began leaking gasoline and he was forced to make an emergency landing. Sadly, the landing caused significant damage to his plane, and his leg was stuck below.
Hudner intentionally wrecked his plane to try to save Brown, yet he and helicopter rescue pilot Charles Ward still couldn’t get him out. Brown sent them on their way after requesting Hudner to convey his feelings to his wife, Daisy.
Hudner begged his superiors not to have additional pilots spray the accident scene with napalm, but they ignored him. Posthumously, Brown won several decorations, including the Purple Heart, while Hudner was honored with the Medal of Honor.
Future navy vessels would be named for both men. Hudner encountered Daisy Brown (played in the film by Christina Jackson) during her husband Brown’s funeral and delivered the letter he had written for her. They became fast friends, and their families remain close even after half a century has passed.
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Is the tale of ‘Devotion’ based on actual events?
Devotion is based on a novel, which is based on actual events. Based on Adam Makos’s 2014 book Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice, the film Devotion tells the story of Jesse and Thomas’s friendship during the Korean War.
A genuine person, Jesse Brown was the first African American to graduate from the United States Navy’s aviation school. A Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and Air Medal were presented to him for his service during the Korean War.
Jesse, who was born in Mississippi and attended a segregated high school and college, eventually earned a degree from Ohio State. He joined the Navy in 1946 and was accepted into the aviation training program.
Although Jesse and Thomas are frequently characterized as friends, actor Jonathan Majors explains in an interview with Vanity Fair that the film avoided white-savior narrative cliches that may have been drawn from their relationship.
“When we said there was no white savior, we meant it. The fates brought these two together despite their mutual dislike. There was an innate bond between these two individuals that might be described as devotion “The words of Jonathan.
The story of Tom and Jesse “has become folklore among military historians,” according to The Herald News. When Jesse’s jet was shot down by Chinese forces on December 4, 1950, he fell onto the side of a mountain during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.
His leg got caught beneath the plane, but he managed to wave for assistance. Tom saw Jesse waving and attempted to rescue him by crashing his jet on purpose.
Tragically, Tom stayed with Jesse as he lost consciousness and died from his injuries after trying to put out the fire caused by the plane accident with snow. Tom was eventually saved, and for his actions, he was given the Medal of Honor.
Discordant details here and there
As was previously said, Devotion is largely faithful to the actual events with two notable deviations. Daisy and Hudner originally met at Brown’s funeral, but in the movie, they talk when Hudner takes Brown home.
Daisy encourages Hudner not to feel guilty about anything during the funeral and begs him to take care of Brown in this scene. Even while this sequence was probably created to up the tension, it still manages to feel authentic, unlike many real-life movies.
Brown’s encounter with Elizabeth Taylor (Serinda Swan) while on leave with his fellow pilots in Cannes is the second notable deviation. The Marines who ran into her were not alone, and while Hudner claimed to have gone to the same casino where Taylor was, no mention was made of Brown’s being there.
An event in which Brown was rejected service by a bartender because of his race was also changed, with Hudner allegedly leaving the establishment with Brown.
With those caveats in mind, it’s refreshing to see a film based on actual events stay as true to the source material as it can, and future works would do well to learn from Devotion’s example.