Jonathan Majors thrives on a biopic that’s a cut above the rest [TIFF]

Jonathan Majors thrives on a biopic that’s a cut above the rest [TIFF]

The looming specter of whiteness often haunts stories of black conquest, overshadowing what should have been singular moments of triumph. While it’s true that these legends broke the whiteness framework and pushed the world forward, films about them don’t necessarily have to follow that same structural path. There is an option to foreground the inner lives of these people, with whiteness functioning as a main obstacle within the narrative. But movies like “hidden figures” and “green book” are smothered by their white characters, good and bad, taking time and focus from the black historical figures we came to the theater to learn. With his third feature, “Devotion“, director JD Dillard bucks against these storytelling leanings, devoting nearly every scene to understanding a complicated young black man with an admirable work ethic and a deep sense of conviction.

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The film, based on Adam Makosbook of “Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice“, tells the true story of two Navy fighter pilots serving during the Korean War. Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors) is the first black aviator to complete the US Navy’s flight training program, as well as a dedicated family man. His winger Tom Hudner (Glen Powell) is also a talented pilot, but lacks passion and direction in his work. A bit of a loner, Tom isn’t sure what kind of man he wants to be when he meets Jesse, but is quickly captivated by Jesse’s drive and dedication to perfecting his skills in heaven. Together, the men build a bond based on the continual search for dominance and mutual understanding.

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Recognizing his supportive position, Tom does his best to act as Jesse’s ally in a racist world that judges him harshly at every move he makes. And yet, neither the movie nor Jesse gives him a pat on the back for his efforts. Tom is often criticized for his condescension and myopia towards Jesse and the volatility of his position as one of America’s first black fighter pilots. This element sets “Devotion” apart from other films in its genre: Tom is not a white savior. Instead, he’s a man trying and often failing to do right by Jesse. Powell plays Tom as one who pleases people with a restless spirit, and is a much quieter character than Hangman, the pilot he plays in the recent blockbuster.”Top Gun: Maverick.” Downplaying his easy charm, Powell uses Tom’s smile as a mask that hides his insecurities.

The title “Devotion” has several applications within the narrative. There is Jesse’s devotion to his wife, daughter and his work. There’s also Tom’s dedication to understanding and supporting Jesse, as well as Jesse’s wife Daisy. And, of course, there is a devotion to the country itself, complicated by the government and society’s reluctance to adhere to its own promise of equal rights for all. Even as he serves his country, Jesse knows that his sacrifices only bring conditional praise and that his place in the Navy will not save him from fanaticism. The only place he really feels safe is with his family. like Daisy, Cristina Jackson takes on the ungrateful role of a devoted wife and injects humor and fun into scenes at Jesse’s house. Jesse’s scenes with Daisy and her daughter Pamela are among the film’s best, depicting how their home life served as an escape from a tense and racist world.

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The movie comes to life when Majors and Powell are on the air. Dillard and cameraman Erik Messerschmidt make the sky seem vast and alive, threatening to engulf Jesse and Tom at any moment. Along with the film’s thrilling flight scenes, Majors is the biggest draw of “Devotion”, showcasing his distinctly masculine vulnerability to portray a man as strong as he is silent. Majors plays Jesse as a man who has seen how the world devalues ​​his voice and therefore resolves to keep most of his vision to himself. His strongest scenes are in the bathrooms, as he recites all the racist insults he receives in the mirror, leaning over the sink with intense eyes. Sometimes a single tear runs down his face, but he never gives anyone the satisfaction of hearing him sob. With its star power and Dillard’s emotionally intelligent script, “Devotion” is a cut above the usual Hollywood biopic, allowing for a more contemplative portrayal of a brave, soft-spoken man who deserves to be remembered. [B]

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