A Journal for Jordan (2021)
Directed by: Denzel Washington | 131 minutes | drama | Actors: Michael B. Jordan, Chanté Adams, Jalon Christian, Robert Wisdom, Tamara Tunie, Jasmine Batchelor, Marchánt Davis, Susan Pourfar, Vanessa Aspillaga, Gray Henson, Johnny M. Wu, David Wilson Barnes, Spencer Squire, Melanie Nicholls-King
Journalist Dana Canedy suffered a massive personal tragedy in 2006 and wrote an international bestseller about it two years later, entitled “A Journal for Jordan: A Story of Love and Honor.” Central to her book is the love she shared with “the most honorable and respectful man I have ever known.” His name was Charles Monroe King and Dana had never seen a man so devoted to her. “He called me his queen and treated me as such.” But her lover was also First Sergeant King, a highly decorated US military leader who, in 2005, when he had just been deployed to Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein, started his 200-page diary to their then-unborn son Jordan. He taught his son, among other things, how to be a good person, how to treat women with respect and what the power of prayer is. Most of all, he lovingly described how proud he was to be Jordan’s father. Charles was killed in combat on October 14, 2006, just a month before his term of service ended. After his death, Dana wanted to do ‘something productive’ with her grief and wrote her book. None other than Denzel Washington was touched by her story and he adapted ‘A Journal for Jordan’ together with screenwriter Virgil Williams (‘Mudbound’, 2017) into a film in which romance predominates.
When we first meet Dana (Chanté Adams), she writes a letter to her son. Probably to give to her son along with Charles’ diary. But that is not immediately clear, because ‘A Journal for Jordan’ (2021) regularly plays with the times. Because then we meet a younger version of Dana, who has a successful career as a journalist at The New York Times and is very fond of her life in the big city. While visiting her family, she bumps into the handsome Charles (Michael B. Jordan), a first-class sergeant who learned the trade under the care of her father (Robert Wisdom). Although Dana doesn’t like the army much (partly due to an apparently difficult relationship with her father that unfortunately barely works out), she falls head over heels for Charles. He is therefore almost ‘too good to be true’: not only is he extremely attractive and does honorable work that he takes extremely seriously, he is also courteous, respectful and also grants her her own career. And when he’s not working or training, he’s painting (!). At first, the two circle around each other a bit; After all, Dana is the independent woman with a life of her own in the big city as he prepares for an eventual mission in Texas. But the appeal is too great to ignore. Fortunately, Adams and Jordan have a great chemistry between them, because the many scenes in which the two attract and repel each other have a repetitive nature.
When the two have finally decided on each other and Dana turns out to be pregnant, George W. Bush decides it’s time for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Charles is sent out. Their early happiness is nipped in the bud. Washington – who previously served as director for ‘Antwone Fisher’ (2002), ‘The Great Debaters’ (2007) and ‘Fences’ (2016) but is not playing a part himself in a film he directed for the first time – makes some curious choices. By focusing on the romance between Dana and Charles, rather than how their child must grow up without his father, A Journal for Jordan loses its persuasiveness. Also the hopping between the different time paths does not make the whole any stronger. Many matters are lightly touched upon but not worked out: the most shocking is this with Charles’s first wife, with whom he also had a child. Nota bene a half sister of Jordan whom we hardly hear about, let alone see her. Other choices are also remarkable: why is something like 9/11, with so much impact, cut off so abruptly? How does Dana deal with the sexism at work, in which two colleagues dismiss her work as a single mother’s tinkering and then run off with her story? And why has the relationship with her father cooled down so much? Another one: If she’s having so much trouble with the military, because of her father, and because of this new trauma around Charles, why does she seem to applaud the fact that her teenage son suddenly starts acting like a soldier?
So many questions unanswered. Is it Williams’ screenplay or is the source material just not that interesting? Of course it is nice that a father leaves something for his son and that mother has been able to write off her grief. But especially in the personal sphere. Not every diary is of as universal historical value as Anne Frank’s. Many other successfully filmed diaries are fictitious. ‘A Journal for Jordan’ was undoubtedly made with the best intentions, but the execution is messy and leaves the viewer with more questions than what he started with. The characters are the most interesting, although the stoic King is portrayed here very well and idealistic. It’s that lead actors Adams and Jordan have such a strong mutual attraction and that young Jalon Christian as adolescent Jordan King is so charming that we keep watching, but from Denzel we expect better.