There’s a moment in Devotion, the Korean War period piece that will be released on November 23, when we get a glimpse of a totally different kind of movie. The film largely keeps an ultraserious tone as it tells the story of Jesse Brown (played by Jonathan Majors), the first Black Naval aviator in U.S. history, and his friendship with white pilot Tom Hudner (Glen Powell) over the course of several months around the start of the war in 1950. But for a brief stretch in the middle of the movie, we get a different sort of dynamic.
On shore leave in Cannes, Brown—whom Majors plays as a family man deeply devoted to his wife—decides to play wingman to his single buddy. The two sit at a patio cafe on the street while Hudner makes eyes at a pair of French women. Brown encourages him to introduce himself, and Hudner tells him that he’s got a good opener—he’ll do a magic trick. Brown eyes him the way we should all want a friend with our best interests at heart to look at us when we announce that we’re going to attempt to woo a potential romantic partner by performing a magic trick—but then smiles. If that’s what his pal has to work with, then work it. Hudner, chuffed, makes his approach.
It’s a small moment, and one that breaks up what can otherwise be a fairly dour affair. In it, we can see the start of something special. Majors and Powell are two of the brightest young stars in Hollywood, and the two Texans (Majors graduated from Duncanville High School, in the Dallas suburbs, while Powell went to Westwood High in Austin) share a dynamic, immediate chemistry whenever Devotion gives them the opportunity to show it. The film isn’t full of such opportunities—Jesse Brown wasn’t a man who quickly took to strangers, and Majors is understated in much of his performance in order to convey Brown’s reticence to trust Hudner—but when we get them, it’s clear we’re watching something special. Devotion has other things on its mind than allowing its two leads to swagger and charm their way across the screen for two and a half hours, but if heavy war dramas about racism and brotherly bonds wear you out, the glimpse of the sort of movie Majors and Powell could make is tantalizing.
Majors rose to fame almost overnight, after his appearance in the 2019 indie The Last Black Man in San Francisco established him as a major talent. Hollywood came calling immediately, giving him the lead role in HBO’s Lovecraft Country and memorable turns in Netflix’s Vietnam War epic Da 5 Bloods and postmodern western The Harder They Fall, with bigger things on the horizon—a heel turn in Michael B. Jordan’s Creed III and a multi-film contract with Marvel to play Kang the Conqueror, the villain in the franchise’s saga over its next several years.
Powell, meanwhile, spent years in small roles—walk-ons on CSI and NCIS, occasional larger roles in Richard Linklater movies—before breaking out in 2015 and 2016, first on Fox’s Scream Queens, then by playing John Glenn in Best Picture nominee Hidden Figures. But he really hit it big this summer by costarring with Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick as the arrogant, übertalented fighter pilot Hangman, a role that established him as a movie star in a real way. (Up next after Devotion is Linklater’s forthcoming Hitman, based on a 2001 Texas Monthly story.)
What we have here, in other words, are two stars still climbing to the summits of their fame, endlessly watchable, who are great on-screen together. Majors and Powell have discussed how Powell (who was an executive producer of Devotion) pitched Majors on the film—at a Russian bathhouse, “the hottest place in New York City,” at Majors’s request. Majors explained on Jimmy Kimmel that he requested the unconventional meeting because he wanted “an audition of friendship and camaraderie,” to see if the two could capture the relationship between Brown and Hudner. When Devotion is at its best, that relationship is clear—and it would be nice to see the pair make a movie together in which they get to have more fun on-screen together.
Duos like Majors and Powell don’t come around all that often. The two are nearly the same age (Powell is 34, Majors 33), at similar points in their careers, and they’ve sweated through both a Russian bathhouse and the process of making an intense war movie together. This partnership shouldn’t be a one and done. There’s potential for the two to be an iconic duo, a new generation’s Robert Redford and Paul Newman, two stars at the height of their powers making interesting choices together. We could have decades of Majors and Powell movies ahead of us, in between Avengers installments and whatever Powell’s post-Maverick blockbusters end up being.
Devotion is a fine film. At its best, it transcends the tropes of films about American racism in the fifties and sixties, although it occasionally still leans too hard on those familiar beats. In any case, it will help audiences learn the story of Jesse Brown, whose role as what a fellow pilot in the film describes as “the Jackie Robinson” of naval aviation shouldn’t be forgotten. But if another piece of Devotion’s legacy is kick-starting a Jonathan Majors–Glen Powell series of movies—crime dramas, buddy comedies, dare we hope a western?—it’ll be remembered fondly for a whole lot of reasons.