HomeEntertainmentMoviesThe Korean War film never flies as high as it aims

The Korean War film never flies as high as it aims

Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors) and Tom Hudner (Glen Powell) in Columbia Pictures' DEVOTION

(LR:) Enter Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell Dedication
Image: Eli Ade

In early Dedication, Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors), the first black aviator in Navy history, tries to pep himself up before taking to the skies. It’s a pivotal moment in the movie and uses a classic movie trope: talking to yourself while looking in the mirror. Think Robert De Niro Cab driver or Matt Damon in it The talented Mr. Ripley. It’s the kind of movie moment that can catapult an actor to stardom. Majors is definitely at that point in his career after breaking out with The last black man in San Francisco and prove themselves with subsequent roles in Da 5 Blood and The harder they fall. Director JD Dillard lets Majors take full flight in this scene, clearly showing the actor’s intensity. What is more striking, however, is the context. Brown motivates himself by hurling at the mirror the racial swear words he hears every day. So Dedication sets the theme of overcoming adversity and gives leadership a signature moment.

Based on the book by Adam Makos and adapted by Jake Crane and Jonathan AH Stewart, Dedication is set during the Korean War in the 1950s. It follows Brown as he prepares in Florida and then into battle in Korea. However, it’s less of a war epic and more of a friendship story about Brown’s relationship with a fellow pilot, Tom Hudner (Glen Powell). The most crucial line in the movie isn’t some big hooyah statement about speed or beating the enemy, but a pretty simple “Be my wingman.”

The friendship is hesitant at first. Brown is the only black fighter pilot in the Navy, so he takes the time to trust Hudner. Some of the other pilots taunt and mock him for his race. Everywhere he goes, it weighs heavily on him to be the ‘one and only’ or the ‘exceptional’. Majors excels at presenting this burden, as in a scene where the other black servicemen show their faith in him and their admiration by presenting Brown with a watch. The majors’ faces betray much of what is not said about bearing the burden of being singled out to affirm the existence of an entire race.

While Majors is able to show Brown’s inner turmoil, a spark never ignites with Powell. Their scenes together never hint at the band trying to make the film the central premise. There is an air of politeness that governs this relationship. In their attempt to present a healthy friendship, the writers end up showing one that doesn’t connect. Even when they provoke a conflict that could lead to fireworks, they resolve it quickly and Majors and Powell are soon polite and reserved with each other again. When they ask for the audience’s tears towards the end, it seems like a ridiculous question because the foundations aren’t laid.

Powell is allowed to parade and flirt when the squadron stops for a short break in the South of France. That interlude doubles as a fun time for the audience, as Brown meets Elizabeth Taylor (Serinda Swan) and invites them on a night out on the town. However, Majors is stuck in the square, as the screenplay robs him of showing various facets of Brown or his own screen persona.

The film also presents a fairly straightforward marriage between Brown and his wife, Daisy (Christina Jackson). It’s so neatly packaged, it borders on hagiography. They are always absolutely supportive and loving to each other, with no idea of ​​how a real marriage functions. The way these two relationships are presented shows the filmmakers’ admirable effort to pay a respectable tribute to the memory of the Brown and Hudner families. But respectful and polite can never take the place of exciting or recognizably genuine.

Dedication is slow to get to the dogfights and war and spends too much time building and training. You expect epic battles or at least thrilling sequences from a movie that is marketed as a war epic. The film also stops there, with a few slightly entertaining but unmemorable scenes. Chanda Dancy’s score swells to hide what’s not on screen. The screenplay doesn’t distinguish any of the fighter pilot characters except for Brown and Hudner, so investing in their fates becomes difficult. Erik Messerschmidt’s lensing of the aerial shots gives an intriguing metallic blue hue to the night sky, reminiscent of other war films, but not distinctive enough to be noticed. The plot in that part of the story is so simple that Dillard can’t squeeze any palpable tension out of it and ends with a whimper.

Dedication admirably tries to tell the story of a heroic man and tries to place him in a recognizable historical and social context. However, in its attempts to display heroism and fortitude, it lacks the complexity that must have affected someone who could soar so high.

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