Synopsis – 1st Sgt. Charles Monroe King, before he is killed in action in Baghdad, authors a journal for his son intended to tell him how to live a decent life despite growing up without a father.
My Take – There is no denying of the fact that two Academy Award winner Denzel Washington is an acting legend who can illuminate even the most worrisome and scattershot scripts just with his magnificent on-screen presence.
However, he doesn’t star in his latest film but instead dons the director’s cap (along with co-producer) for the fourth time and passes on that responsibility to Michael B. Jordan (who also co-produced the film), to re-create the successes his previous films, Antwone Fisher (2002), The Great Debaters (2007) and Fences (2016), saw.
Surprisingly the end results turned out to be way more underwhelming than one could have expected, especially considering that the screenplay was written by Virgil Williams (Mudbound).
A romantic drama based on the bestselling 2008 memoir from publisher and former New York Times reporter Dana Canedy, about the notebook of advice that her soldier partner Charles Monroe King wrote for their infant son Jordan just before his death in Iraq, as a director Washington’s solemn adaptation does tug at the heartstrings but also fails to enchant with its story and presentation, rather coming off as a thin, mostly uneventful relationship flick, made appealing only due to Chanté Adams and Michael B. Jordan‘s engaging performances.
Make no mistake, the film is entirely serviceable, but there is nothing in the direction or script which distinguishes it from any other standard romantic drama, aside from the inclusion of African American protagonists for this kind of film.
Sometimes funny, sometimes frustrating, but always sweet and safe, the film just never offers anything particularly interesting or something we haven’t seen before. This is really unfortunate, considering the talent attached to the adaption.
The story follows Dana Canedy (Chanté Adams), a NY Times journalist and single mother, who in her struggle with grief begins writing a memoir for her one-year-old son Jordan, which is inspired by the journal that Jordan’s father, US Army 1st Sergeant Charles King (Michael B. Jordan), kept whilst fighting in the Iraq War.
In a constant cycle of flashbacks and time jumps, we see how Dana, a career journalist in the 90s falls hard for Charles, a sweet, idealistic guy in the US army who is going through a divorce, then cope with their different stance on relationships, cope with the strain of distance, and then see Dana learn to cope with the emptiness caused by her beloved’s untimely death, leaving Jordan to piece together his father’s identity through the titular journal.
What follows is a film in the mold of Nicholas Sparks adaptions, that surprisingly doesn’t delve very deep into what’s actually in the journal. Instead, it’s largely a story about Charles and Dana’s courtship and relationship. Told through a screenplay that is at times a little too jumpy, with some quite unnecessary segues which make the film easily twenty minutes longer than required.
At first the film seems to be aiming at the female audiences, emphasizing on Dana’s struggles to balance being a single mother with her job at the New York Times, and luxuriating in their date nights across New York City. Then, it attempts to mine a compelling tension between Charles’s sense of duty and his love for his men and his relationship with Dana, but it’s none of these ever fully fleshed out.
Important characters and subplots are picked up and dropped at random like troubles with Dana’s parents, the connection between Dana’s siblings, and only circled back to when there needs to be some outside drama. Also strangely omitted from the film is Charles’s other family. His is divorced and has a daughter but we never see her nor does the film acknowledge anything about Charles’s relationship with his ex-wife broke down.
To make matters more disjointed, it forgets to make space for either of the things mentioned in the film’s title, Jordan (Jalon Christian) and the journal. The journal’s impact doesn’t really start to resonate until the end of the film when the teenage Jordan tries to come to terms with his father’s legacy and what his life and death meant. And both feel shoehorned in at the end in a film that becomes completely detached from its first act.
Yes, the final moments are quite moving but also frustrating as they provide a glimpse of what the film could have been. It also doesn’t help that the film suffers from a meandering pace, and leans too heavily into the military aspects of its narrative.
If the expectation was that Virgil Williams’s script would elevate the film, it’s all the more puzzling when it turns out to be its biggest flaw. And considering how excellent Denzel Washington’s last directorial effort, Fences, was it’s even more disappointing when this one ends up being a cookie cutter interpretation of an undeniably heartbreaking story.
What’s more frustrating is that the chemistry between Michael B. Jordan and Chanté Adams is easy to get lost in, as both offer incredible performances. Especially Adams who is a relative newcomer, is charming and funny even when her character can be abrupt or rude; the film asks a lot from her, oscillating between her despair as a widowed new mother and her giddy, nervous joy during her romance, but she’s up to the task.
In supporting roles, Jalon Christian, Robert Wisdom, Tamara Tunie, Johnny M. Wu and Susan Pourfar are also good. On the whole, ‘A Journal for Jordan’ is a bland familiar romance which despite winning chemistry rarely delivers.
Directed – Denzel Washington
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 131 minutes