Denzel Washington’s fourth directorial effort is a story of love, loss and sacrifice told through the journal of Charles Monroe King.
Donning the director’s cap for the fourth time, it seemed that Denzel Washington was setting himself up for success by enlisting Michael B Jordan for his adaptation of New York Times journalist Dana Canedy’s memoir. The story centres Dana’s (Chanté Adams) struggle with grief, as well as a collection of journal entries written by United States Army First Sergeant Charles Monroe King (Michael B Jordan) for his infant son Jordan. When Charles meets a tragic death in Iraq, Jordan has to piece together his father’s identity through the titular journal.
In a constant cycle of flashbacks and timejumps – oddly signposted by captions in Times New Roman – Denzel renders Canedy’s memoir into a corny and soapy melodrama that looks as if it were plucked from the early 2000s. Dana first meets Charles in her parents’ living room, visiting home for a holiday. We then see the couple fall in love, cope with the strain of distance, along with how Dana learns to cope with the emptiness caused by her beloved’s untimely death.
Charles is posthumously depicted as a saint: an earnest military man with working class sensibilities and a love for pointillist art, whose only flaw is wearing the same pair of worn-out trainers everywhere he goes. Anything that might complicate this saintly portrait is conveniently omitted. We find out that he has an ex-wife and daughter, but the film never acknowledges his relationship with them.
Solely relying on Dana’s subjective and romanticised memories, it makes sense that the narrative would paint Charles with such idealistic brushstrokes, but by denying him complexity, his portrayal becomes otiose, shallow and unrealistic. It also doesn’t help that Michael B Jordan injects none of his signature charm or charisma to the role, appearing to be constantly stiff and robotic.
A Journal for Jordan suffers from a meandering pace, and leans too heavily into the military aspects of its narrative. Uncritical depictions of war will always be dangerous to our collective historical memory. Yes, soldiers are brave, but shouldn’t we at least question the interests at stake?
There’s not much that’s heroic about a depiction of an America-loving, career-driven couple with a skewed worldview that favours military propaganda. It’s conservative America’s wet dream, so the film will definitely find an audience with Boomers looking to uncritically consume a tearjerker with a strong patriotic, pro-military and pro-Christian message.
If the expectation was that Virgil Williams’ (Mudbound) script would elevate the film, it’s all the more puzzling when it turns out to be its biggest flaw. And considering the impact of Denzel’s previous directorial effort (Fences) which earned Viola Davis an Academy Award, it’s even more disappointing when A Journal for Jordan ends up being a cheap and contrived interpretation of an undeniably heartbreaking story.
In spite of its trite predictability and overlong running time,