What does it mean to serve? Instantly, we think of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines putting everything on the line to protect our freedoms—and rightfully so. Still, there are ways to serve that don’t require taking an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. This includes making movies. Before rolling your eyes, consider the film industry’s impact on the military over the last half-century and how many people enlist after watching Band of Brothers, Top Gun, The Tuskegee Airmen, Saving Private Ryan, and Zero Dark Thirty. You can now add Devotion to that list.
While military movies are a powerful recruiting tool, a subset of this genre plays a vital role in the American psyche and shapes how we see ourselves. Films based on actual military events remind us there’s a steep cost to ensuring each generation experiences liberty. American history is full of ordinary men and women who accomplish extraordinary things. Thanks in part to the actors and actresses who portray them, we learn their stories and know their names.
Glen Powell, an actor who’s appeared in more than 30 movies and television shows, including Hidden Figures, Sand Castle, and Top Gun:
Maverick, joined us on a recent episode of the Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast. Typically, the Talking Series focuses on conversations with guests, but this week we’re looking at Powell’s most recent film, Devotion, and the incredible story that inspired it.
Two very different movies
Did you dream of being a fighter pilot as a child? If so, you’re not alone. In 2022, those who never fully let go of that childhood dream had two incredible films to watch, both starring Powell. In May, 36 years and 11 days after Top Gun introduced the world to Navy fighter pilots Maverick and Iceman, Paramount Pictures released the highly anticipated sequel, Top Gun: Maverick.
Then, on November 23, Black Label Media released Devotion, an awe-inspiring biopic based on Adam Makos’ book, Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice. Both films are about Navy aviators, but that’s where the similarities end. “[They focus] on different eras of naval aviation, different aircraft, and tell very different stories,” says Powell. “While they’re different types of movies, both are beautiful testaments to our men and women in uniform,” he adds.
Beautifully filmed, Devotion is the true story of the Korean War’s most distinguished wingmen, elite Navy Fighter Pilots Jesse Brown, played by Jonathan Majors, and Tom Hudner, played by Powell. While delivering spectacular aerial sequences that audiences are sure to love, the film’s foundation is built on tremendous acting, well-developed characters, and an unflinching willingness to depict the reality of war.
Powell explains that telling a true story of friendship and bravery carries an added responsibility to do right by those involved. “I sat down with Tom Hudner on Memorial Day in 2017…and promised him and his family to tell his story right,” says Powell. “He passed away a few months later,” he adds.
An incredible story
Jesse Brown joined the Naval Reserve after seeing a recruitment poster for the Naval Aviation Program. Although he was told he’d never fly because of his race, Brown became the first Black aviator to complete Navy Primary Flight Training.
In December 1950, Ensign Brown crashed on the side of a snow-covered mountain after being shot down behind enemy lines. His wingman, Lieutenant Thomas Hudner, ignored a direct order from his commander and purposely crashed his aircraft alongside the downed plane. After finding him severely injured and trapped, Hudner made a distress call. After attempts to free him failed, it became apparent they were out of options. Unable to bring Brown’s remains home, shipmates honored him with a warrior’s funeral.
Ensign Brown posthumously received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, and the Purple Heart. Lieutenant Hudner received the Medal of Honor for “exceptionally valiant action and selfless Devotion to a shipmate.”
Friendship, above all else
After five years in development, Powell is excited to share a film that’s meant so much to him and grateful audiences will learn about these incredible men. “Hudner was a guy who colored in the lines…so it’s interesting this was the moment that defined his life,” says Powell.
The film has several themes, but friendship and service stand out. It’s inspiring that during segregation, two men from different races chose friendship above all else. “It’s not like he was trying to be anything [except] a good friend. I can’t wait for people to see this because I feel like it says all the right things about friendship,” says Powell.
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