Denzel is directing a romance…what? I was surprised to see Washington’s name pop up as director when I first saw the trailer for A Journal for Jordan. I also noticed a mixed bag of a film just based on the advertising. It looked like there was some saucy romance between Michael B. Jordan and Chante Adams. There is also the story of a soldier leaving advice behind to his son as he goes away for war. But do these two directions balance well with each other? There is only one way to find out. Let’s talk about it.
Let’s start with some romance, shall we? This story is a standard cinematic romance. There is some tension that builds up between. Will they, won’t they…that kind of deal. Then the spark lights up and things get nice and steamy. Don’t worry…the audience gets treated to some of Michael B. Jordan (which I am sure a large portion of the audience was hoping for). Then you get some standard arguments that pop up…then get resolved in just a few minutes. All the tropes you expect in your Hollywood romance. Some of those arguments are also illogical and just there to cause tension.
What about the father-son story? For a film called A Journal for Jordan, this aspect of the film feels like an afterthought. This aspect of the film shows up two-thirds of the way into the film. There is an added framing narrative that feels completely unnecessary since most of the film was told in a linear narrative up until this point. Besides an emotionally charged finale, this section of the film is stiff and awkward (unfortunately resting on the shoulders of a young actor and awkward dialogue). This film feels like it would have benefited from focusing on the romance that makes up most of the film anyway.
What is Washington able to add behind the camera? Unfortunately, the film feels like it has no discernable personality from a directing perspective. There are a few moments of inspired camera work including a slow zoom out to a beautiful New York view during a phone conversation as well as some area shots in Iraq. There are a few scenes that are particularly emotional (one such film is a turning point in the film that also takes place in Iraq). But outside of these few aspects, the film feels safe and melodramatic.
How does the acting bolster the film? First off, Michael B. Jordan is on a whole other level in the film. He is an amazing talent who brings so much to the role. His emotions are retrained, and he says so much in a stance. But there are almost moments where his incredible charisma just shines through. Who could blame Dana for falling hard for Charles? Speaking of Dana…Chante Adams has some great moments in her own right. But her best moments are with Jordan. When she is acting against her son, Jalon Christian, things are not as great. Christian himself is stiff and awkward in many ways. There is one interaction that was supposed to convey the big ideas of the film and both actors fumble with delivery of stiff dialogue.
So…what is this movie anyway? Mostly a romance that chooses to be something deeper and meaningful in its third act, A Journal for Jordan fumbles around way too much. Washington is not able to wrangle this story in an interesting way. What the audience is left with is an overly safe and melodramatic experience. If that is enough for you, you will find some enjoyment out of this one.