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Laramie Movie Scope: Devotion

A Tale From the Forgotten War

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 23, 2022 – This heavily-promoted, but lightly-watched movie is based on a true story about U.S. naval aviators fighting in the Korean War, the so-called “Forgotten War” wedged between World War II and the Vietnam War. The movie is based on the book “Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice by Adam Makos.”

The story revolves around the friendship between two naval aviators, Ensign Jesse LeRoy Brown (played by Jonathan Majors of “The Harder They Fall”) and Lieutenant Thomas Jerome Hudner Jr. (played by Glen Powell of “Hidden Figures”). Two years after the U.S. racially integrated its armed forces, Brown became the first African American to complete the Navy's basic flight training program.

Assigned as Brown's wingman, Brown initiates the newly-recruited Hudner into Fighter Squadron 32 by leading him into some dangerous low-level flying around lighthouses and around the masts of sailboats. He explains that he wants to know how well Hudner responds to stress.

Hudner passes the test and earns Brown's respect. When Brown's car breaks down along side the road, Hudner stops by to give him a ride. Gradually, the two men become friends, and Brown invites Hudner into his home to meet his wife, Daisy (Christina Jackson of “The Night House”) and his daughter, Pamela.

In response to the threat of the Soviet Union, the squadron is equipped with a bigger, more powerful airplane, the Vought F4U Corsair. Brown is very nervous about trying to land a Corsair onto the deck of an aircraft carrier. He is used to flying F8F Bearcat, a plane which offers the pilot a much better forward view for landing.

Brown later confides to Hudner that his difficulty landing the Corsair is not just the poor field of view, but his experiences with racial bias in the military, which cause him to distrust landing signals given him by white landing signal officers. He tells Hudner he has been opposed and held back for years in the military.

Squadron 32 is reassigned to the aircraft carrier USS Leyte, and sent to Europe. During shore leave at Cannes, France, Brown meets movie star, Elizabeth Taylor (Serinda Swan of “Redemption Day”) who invites him to party with her at a casino. When he tells his fellow shipmates about the invite, they don't believe him, but follow him to the casino anyway, in full dress uniforms. Initially, they are turned away, but Brown surprises everyone by talking his way past the doormen, in French.

Inside, Brown introduces Hudner, and the other flyers to Taylor, who hopes they will bring her gambling luck. As they crowd in around her, other servicemen are crowded out, and one of them decides to pick a fight with Brown, later, outside, but Hudner steps in front of the man and hits him. The pilots all manage to escape the ensuing brawl before the shore patrol arrives. Brown tells Hudner that he didn't like punches being thrown, and that he can fight his own battles, and has been fighting them in his own way, for years.

At the outbreak of the Korean War (a United Nations police action) in 1950, Squadron 32 finds themselves in the thick of it. On one mission, engine trouble causes the squadron leader, Richard “Dick” Cevoli (Thomas Sadoski of “John Wick”) to turn back, but not before turning over command of the mission to Hudner. The mission is to knock out a bridge used by the Chinese to send troops and equipment into North Korea. The American fighters must avoid hitting the anti-aircraft guns on Chinese soil for fear of expanding the war.

During the attack, Brown disobeys orders and makes a dangerous low-level run, destroying the remaining span of the bridge. The mission is a success, but Brown is angry that his failure to follow orders finds its way into Hudner's mission report. He is concerned this will damage his navy career.

This leads to the movie's climax, a high-risk mission to support U.N. ground troops at Chosin Reservoir, Brown's plane is hit by anti-aircraft fire and loses oil pressure. Brown is forced to crash land his plane in a remote snow-covered clearing in the mountains. The Corsair catches fire. Hudner, flying low, sees that Brown is alive but is not getting out of the burning plane.

Hudner crash lands his own plane next to Brown's and rushes over to rescue him. Both Hudner, who is later joined by rescue helicopter pilot, Marine First Lieutenant Charlie Ward (Joseph Cross of “Licorice Pizza”) struggle attempting to get Brown out of the Corsair cockpit. Brown's legs are pinned under the collapsed instrument panel.

This is where you'd put your standard, uplifting Hollywood ending, but movie this is based on a true story about the horrors of war. This is a story about the reality of war, including the black pilot who disobeyed orders to complete a mission, even though he is fearful of being denied promotion. Meanwhile, the white pilot who also disobeys orders in a failed attempt to save the black pilot, but gets promoted, and is awarded a Medal of Honor by President Truman.

The mantra of this movie is that nobody gets left behind, but in war, somebody always gets left behind. The next best thing to having a loved one's remains found and returned is for the dead not to be forgotten, after being left behind. It should be noted that both Brown and Hudner have ships named after them.

The movie has convincing, great looking aerial scenes, perhaps because these scenes are not all computer-generated. Flying scenes include actual vintage aircraft from the 1940s and 1950s, including a real vintage Soviet-built MIG-15 from the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, California and five real flying Corsairs from other collections. Reportedly, director of photography Erik Messerschmidt utilized some of the same aerial camera equipment in this film that was used in “Top Gun: Maverick.”

The acting is also good, led by Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell, along with Christina Jackson. There is also a great supporting performance by Thomas Sadoski, who plays the Executive Officer and Division Commander of Squadron 32. Cevoli seems a lot more personable than most on-screen officers in these sorts of movies.

This movie won't get the audience, or the recognition of “Top Gun: Maverick” but for those who love WWII fighter planes, like the ones in this movie, this is a must see. This movie is one of the best about the “Forgotten War” in Korea, and the men who fought there. This film rates a B.

This got me to thinking about driving along Highway 2 in Wisconsin back in the 1970s when I saw a P-38 Lightning fighter mounted atop a pole. I stopped and discovered the Richard Bong memorial in Poplar, Wisconsin. Bong was America's “Ace of Aces” during World War II, shooting down 40 enemy aircraft. Maybe someday, a movie will be made about him, or about Thomas McGuire, who was a close second to Bong with 38 kills. Both men flew twin-engined P-38 Lightnings in the Pacific Theater of operations in WWII.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2022 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]