It’s so often the case that stories of heroes are bittersweet, as so many incredible people throughout history sadly don’t live long enough to have the satisfaction of seeing their own impact . Unfortunately, it’s often through another person’s pain that we often learn and grow as a people. Denzel Washington’s A Journal For Jordan explores this truth through two avenues, centering on a protagonist who is a faithful American soldier and a father with a lifetime of wisdom that gets passed down through the written word.
A Journal For Jordan is an adaptation of Dana Canedy’s 2009 memoir of the same name about her late fiancé, First Sergeant Charles Monroe King, who is the father to her son, Jordan. The content of the story being told here, and through Denzel Washington’s fourth directorial effort, is inherently touching and affecting. The movie focuses on the love story of Dana and Charles, who are embodied by Chanté Adams and Michael B. Jordan, and the war tragedy that leaves their son without a father – but armed with his empowering values and musings.
The romantic drama is a sentimental tearjerker, highlighted by it being based on a true story about the family of a war hero. But at the same time, A Journal For Jordan’s impact feels dampened by trying to fit in every little detail of the events rather than making some necessary cinematic choices.
A Journal For Jordan takes its time adapting Dana Canedy’s memoir to a fault.
A Journal For Jordan is nearly two-and-a-half hours, with much of that time devoted to laying out Dana and Charles’ early romance as a couple in a way that leans on the ordinary and takes too much time to move the plot forward. The audience goes through the familiar stages of their relationship when capturing the essence of their coupling may have been better than a play by play.
In some circumstances in the script, sparks fly thanks to both the material and through the talented leads– but A Journal For Jordan can sometimes feel like an unedited diary entry. If you’re not keen on watching ordinary and intimate details of a couple getting to know each other from a practical, specific approach, it may to leave your fingers tapping in boredom as you watch. Mudbound screenwriter Virgil Williams’ difficult task of translating Canedy’s best-selling book to the big screen is full of care, but is challenged when it shares the stage with thousands of incredible love stories before it. While the beautiful story does speak for itself, the dialogue is often overwrought, and Denzel Washington’s direction is a bit too patient with its material.
Michael B. Jordan stands out, but can feel underutilized and one-note.
The movie features a one-of-a-kind role for Michael B. Jordan, who is playing his first romantic lead as the late sergeant ,and it’s a part with character dynamics that come across with much different notes than we’ve seen the actor take on before. Also, because we’re used to seeing the actor take on larger-than-life characters or front magazine covers, Charlies Monroe King has an ordinary quality to him that is difficult to see via an actor with so much buzz surrounding him and name recognition. A Journal For Jordan may have executed its tone a bit better with a smaller name, but nevertheless, Jordan certainly brings his appeal to the role, and it exercises a new side of his talent.
There’s an odd balance A Journal For Jordan is trying to lean into, as it has a grounded true story and is very much taking advantage of Michael B. Jordan’s brand as the former Sexiest Man Alive. Multiple moments in the movie play quite literally like a thirst trap to get its romance lovers ohh-ing and ahh-ing over the leading man. Thankfully, A Journal For Jordan is not ho-hum and shows the joy of Dana and Charles’ relationship to breaks some tension between the more serious elements of the storyline – but these moments may take some viewers out of the film as it becomes more of a Michael B. Jordan oodle-fest.
A Journal For Jordan’s greatest strength lies in the war hero story it tells.
Pitfalls aside, A Journal For Jordan is at its best when it’s focusing on its titular Jordan, the son of Dana and Charles, who ties together the love story to the war tragedy through the journal that is written for him as a baby. The movie doesn’t lean enough on Jordan’s story, focusing on Dana’s perspective instead, but when Jordan becomes a more dominant part of the story, A Journal For Jordan beams the brightest and opens the audience to some truly beautiful moments.
The movie finds a powerful stride in the third act with the push and pull between Charles being on tour and Dana’s pregnancy, which creates a palpable tension in the story. In these sequences, A Jordan For Jordan truly becomes the movie it wants to be, and makes best use of Dana being at the center of the tale. Many tragic war stories are told on the front lines, but this one illustrates the impact that being a soldier in the Iraq War had on its families back home, and it has a substantial message about taking advantage of the precious time we have with our loved ones and leaving a lasting legacy to pass on to the next generation.