A Journal for Jordan, 2021.
Directed by Denzel Washington.
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Chanté Adams, Jalon Christian, Gregory Sanon, Cleveland Berto, Johnny M. Wu, Nicholas G. Sims, Vanessa Aspillaga, Joseph Brooks, Spencer Squire, Samuel Caleb Walker, Susan Pourfar, Tamara Tunie, and Robert Wisdom.
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.
A Journal for Jordan opens up with one of those montages flashing by images of critical moments set to take place across the narrative’s two timelines (the late 90s into the early 2000s and the back half of the last decade). In this case, everything that’s shown feels like an inevitability based on the premise of the story and actual events (director Denzel Washington uses a script from Virgil Williams based on an article from the actual Dana Canedy entitled From Father to Son, Last Words to Live By), which further takes away from any potential suspense or urgency to be found here, especially considering the filmmaking is more concerned with a lighthearted and tender recounting of the relationship between Sergeant Charles Monroe King (Michael B. Jordan, still shredded but now in uniform) and New York Times journalist Dana Canedy (Chanté Adams). It’s not long before boredom settles in from lack of conflict, hoping that something exciting happens even if it means endangering Charles in the line of duty simply so the story can actually go somewhere.
That’s not to say Denzel Washington doesn’t try to drum up some grounded drama, more that whenever he does, it rings hollow from a crippling disinterest in exploring Charles and Dana beyond the most basic aspects of dating and sexual attraction. At one point, Charles is deployed and set to visit Dana while she is working in Akron, where plans, unfortunately, fall through. One of the soldiers he prides himself on looking after has a wife entering potentially fatal childbirth, so he stays behind to be there for them. Meanwhile, and understandably upset, Dana jumps to conclusions of cheating over the phone, which registers poorly considering the family issues the film is trying to tie this fear of adultery into are also granted no insight or depth.
Most of the time, A Journal for Jordan feels like a Hallmark romance with a few laughs here and there from the chemistry between Michael B. Jordan and Chanté Adams the opposing personalities of their characters (another element that doesn’t even scratch the surface, which is embarrassing considering the inherently political nature of a romantic relationship between an Army Sergeant and a journalist). If anything, it’s 2+ hours of Michael B. Jordan depicted as the most respectful, gentlemanly, polite, perfect boyfriend in existence (which I’m sure might entertain some people not necessarily looking for anything challenging here), which comes across as overkill. Yes, a small rift is created from his compulsion to treat his Army family with the same values and care as he does toward Dana, but the personality of Charles is more wish-fulfillment than genuine.
Charles is also a unique Sergeant in that he also has a passion for drawing and famous art yet has never really experienced metropolis life or much of the world’s pleasures due to his Army commitment, something fascinating that the script acknowledges just as fast as it drops it. A few attempts at humor are made from this cultural inexperience, but it turns out to be as meaningless as the brief segment introducing Dana’s complicated military veteran father that sets the two up in the first place. No matter how heavy or intriguing the material, the script and direction can’t help but approach the story and characters in the corniest way.
There’s also the wasted titular son Jordan (played by newcomer Jalon Christian, deserving of more screen time as he generates more emotion in five minutes than anyone else does here in 125), who is properly introduced slightly halfway into the movie, now as a fatherless teenager struggling with the bullying at the expense of his light-skinned Blackness. The fallout from the altercation (which leaves Jordan a bit banged up from offscreen physical confrontation) involves Dana handing Jordan a journal Charles wrote for the boy while serving in Iraq as a realist unsure if he would make it home once and for all. The diary itself appears to be filled with commendable advice (it’s not a weakness for a man to cry, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, reassurance of identity, and advice for respectfully treating women), but in five minutes, the narrative reverts to the stiff romance angle.
There’s not even an interest in addressing anyone’s thoughts about post-9/11 America or the war, seemingly afraid even to entertain a conversation about the topic. A Journal for Jordan is as sanitized and saintly a true story as they come. It pulls punches at every corner, shockingly has little interest in the titular journal itself and the eponymous Jordan, and sleepwalks through a lifeless love story. Here is something to write down in the journal: this is the worst directorial effort from Denzel Washington to date.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com