“A Journal for Jordan” is a charming love story full of hope, not just tears
CLEVELAND, Ohio – In 2007, New York Times editor-in-chief Dana Canedy wrote in the diary that her fiance, Army First Sergeant Charles Monroe King, left for their toddler son before he he would not be killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. The 200-page journal for Jordan was meant to help the boy navigate life in case Charles didn’t return from the war.
Canedy, a former reporter for The Plain Dealer, expanded on this essay on Charles, himself from Cleveland, in a 2008 book that caught Denzel Washington’s attention.
• Interview with Dana Canedy: a former Plain Dealer journalist talks about “A Journal for Jordan”
“A Journal for Jordan” is the fourth feature film the Oscar-winning actor has directed behind the camera and the first in which he is not also the star. But moviegoers accustomed to the heightened melodrama of its previous directing efforts or expecting the Three-Handkerchief Scream the trailer suggests will either be surprised.
That’s because Washington and screenwriter Virgil Williams (“Mudbound”) never really treated the film as overly sentimental and sad tearful. At its heart, “A Journal for Jordan” is a beautiful, old-fashioned love story that’s sweet, romantic, sexy, and even funny at times. What could have been an exercise in despair and heartbreak is rather uplifting and hopeful.
The film opens with Dana (Chanté Adams, “The Photograph”) as a single mother after the death of Charles (Michael B. Jordan, “Creed”) but quickly returns to 1998 when the couple are put together by her. father at a family barbecue. The two couldn’t be more different or at different times in their lives. He’s in the military and a divorcing dad, while she’s a career-driven single woman living in the big city. He’s a gentleman, kind and wears grandfather’s sneakers. She is spirited, sophisticated and honks in traffic. Neither is really looking for love.
But, unexpectedly, they fall deep, though their relationship is sometimes strained by the physical distance between them and Charles’s dedication to his soldiers. A few years later, he was deployed to Iraq and the couple had a baby. He sees the child once before being sent back to the front lines, where he spends his free time filling out the journal with advice on topics such as anti-racism, how to treat a woman and what it means to be a man.
Their love for the history of war is indeed moving, but a love film is only worth the strength of its protagonists. And Jordan and Adams deliver excellent performances, injecting nuance and depth into their roles. Their chemistry is so palpable that it grabs you by the heart with both hands before the inevitable moment arrives and the film returns it to you in a million pieces. These climactic scenes are powerful and show Washington’s skills as a director to get inside and get the most out of his cast.
The film takes a closer look at the kind of intense drama he made his career as an actor in the final act when Jordan (Jalon Christian), almost a teenager and eager to learn more about his father, hosts a memorial service for him at Arlington National Cemetery. There, as members of his battalion share stories about Charles, Dana discovers a new side of him she never knew.
But “A Journal for Jordan” is more than a touching tribute to a partner, father and hero. It’s also a reminder that we can continue to learn from the people we love even after they are gone. This year, especially now, it’s something that a lot of people could use right now.
“A Journal for Jordan” is rated PG-13 and opens exclusively in theaters December 24.