DIRECTOR: Denzel Washington

CAST: Michael B. Jordan, Chanté Adams, Jalon Christian, Robert Wisdom, Johnny M. Wu, Tamara Tunie

RUNNING TIME: 131 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12A

BASICALLY…: A soldier (Jordan) writes a journal to guide his young son through life…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

There is a very good movie buried somewhere within A Journal For Jordan. The ingredients are there, not just from its pedigree creative talent (Denzel Washington as director, Oscar-nominated Mudbound co-writer Virgil Williams as writer, Michael B. Jordan as both lead actor and producer etc), but with its good-natured, heartfelt true story which, if told right, has the potential to be a powerful tale of love and loss.

The problem is, whatever great movie you may be expecting is gravely lost within an odd assortment of competing tones, conflicting storylines and, most crucially of all, almost no real reason to care. It’s hard to tell what kind of movie that A Journal For Jordan ultimately wants to be, which shouldn’t be that hard to figure out given that all the necessary tools are right there in front of it, that should have helped make this film much better than it actually is.

The main storyline focuses on Dana Canedy (Chanté Adams), an opinionated and newly single journalist who, while visiting her parents for the weekend, meets Charles Monroe King (Jordan), a US Army drill sergeant who served under Dana’s father. Though it takes a while for a spark to truly form between the two of them, exacerbated by their radically different personalities – she is rather uptight and out-spoken, whereas he is much quieter and respectful – the two eventually form a relationship, and even plan to get married when she falls pregnant. Unfortunately, when Charles is KIA whilst on duty in Iraq, it’s left to Dana to raise their baby boy, Jordan, with the help of a series of journals written by Charles designed to guide his son through life without him.

Seems straightforward enough, right? Unfortunately, for whatever reason, director Denzel Washington and writer Virgil Williams tie it all up in a frustrating series of knots that make things far stranger than it ever needed to be. It feels like at least three films of separate genres are trying to claw for attention at all times, one of which is a romantic-comedy with all the bells and whistles, from the meet-cute to the misunderstanding to even the lead female character having a sassy gay friend; another is this genuinely tender drama about a woman struggling with her partner serving and eventually dying overseas; and then there’s a coming-of-age story in which a tween Jordan (Jalon Christian) finds out about his father through his journals. It’s as though neither Washington nor Williams could settle on what kind of movie they wanted A Journal For Jordan to be, so they simply decided to do all of them at the same time; not the brightest idea, for it makes the film feel tonally confused as a result, going from sombre scenes of young Jordan experiencing racism at school to, all of a sudden, Dana being gifted a vibrator for her birthday by her comic-relief pals. It’s insane how all over the place this movie is, especially when you can always see ways in which it actually could have come together much more neatly.

Part of the problem also lies in how, in telling this very tender and meaningful story, the filmmakers picked the least interesting parts to focus on, as well as the most confusing structure to place it all within. Chanté Adams’ Dana is very much the central character in this movie, but although Adams does deliver a strong performance, neither her character nor the one played by Michael B. Jordan (whose performance here is noticeably more low-key and not as outgoingly charismatic as he’s been in the past, but he does fine enough) are interesting enough to carry such weighty emotional fare, since there isn’t much to them that sticks out or even tells us why they are perfect for each other. If anything, the film should have been far more focused on the young title character, who only really comes into fruition during the second half, and even then is largely side-lined for more scenes about his dull parents. The angle of this young kid learning about his father through a series of self-written journal entries is, while not the freshest narrative, a much more concrete and emotionally rich one than what we get, which is instead diluted by non-linear editing that more often than not feels extremely random. Scenes will more or less just happen in this film, with little in terms of build-up or even clarity as to when it’s all supposed to be set; one moment 9/11 is happening in the background, and then we jump to eighteen years in the future before then going back to 2001 without so much as a clarifying edit to separate the two time periods apart, made even more difficult by the fact that people like Chanté Adams look the same all throughout without anything added to their skin or hairstyles to separate them.

It is rather unfortunate that A Journal For Jordan has turned out to be so awkward and narratively jumbled, because (again) a genuinely great movie can be made from this source material, and with the creative talent that is already in place. Perhaps another couple of major rewrites could have fixed things up significantly, maybe with a clearer focus on its own tone, which characters it should focus on instead, and what it ultimately wants to say, as opposed to the final product when it just comes across as disappointingly empty. On top of that, Washington’s direction also needs, ironically enough, its own sense of guidance, because he’s certainly halfway there with the decent performances and a handful of emotional scenes that do hit close enough to the target, but a much stronger idea of what he wants to do would have helped enormously, as well as knowing which of his many competing genres he has to stick with and also get rid of.

As is, though, the final product of A Journal For Jordan feels more like a rough cut, with some serious fine-tuning needed to steer it more into the right direction before it can be properly assessed by critics and audiences. Again, it’s sad because you know that these are incredibly gifted creatives who have been handed a story with so much potential, but it’s largely been squandered on mismatched tones that see the lead female being comically gifted a vibrator just moments after her son describes racist bullying at school, and very little sense of what it’s ultimately trying to say.

SO, TO SUM UP…

A Journal For Jordan is a wildly messy drama that suffers greatly from inconsistent tones, far too loose structures, and a lack of proper focus on the more interesting aspects of this emotionally rich story, which squander its potential to a point where you can see exactly where vast improvements desperately need to be made.

A Journal For Jordan will be released in cinemas nationwide on Friday 21st January 2022 – click here to find a screening near you!

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