Denzel Washington praised his turn in Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” a new retelling of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy that hits theaters on Christmas Day. It’s also the release date of “A Journal for Jordan,” Washington’s latest directorial effort and a confusing sub-quality melodrama made for television in its writing, acting. and his cinematic flair. Talk about a jarring double Washington feature film.
Equally puzzled is that Virgil Williams, who co-wrote “Mudbound” alongside Dee Rees, is behind this unthinkably well-worn adaptation of Dana Canedy’s best-selling book “A Journal for Jordan: A Story of Love and Honor “. The tome was in turn developed from his New York Times article “From Father to Son, Last Words to Live By”.
The factual account follows Canedy’s relationship with his late partner, 1st Sgt. Charles Monroe King, weaving together the writings he left for their son with his own process of remembrance. Time jumps abound over the two decades the story covers, but as then-New York Times reporter Dana (Chanté Adams) decides to start writing in 2007, just a year after King’s death, it begins with their first meeting in the late 1990s.
Charles (Michael B. Jordan), already a divorced father, courts him with his courteous manners at his parents. Daughter of an unfaithful soldier, Dana hesitates but falls in love with this embodiment of traditional masculinity. (He prays before every meal and always walks outside the sidewalk.) From that point on, their romance blossomed with him visiting her repeatedly in the big city.
As if to hammer home Charles’ everyday man virtues, the film makes an odd point about his unsophisticated dress style while also emphasizing his love of painting. In this representation, he has no fault, even when he has to break his promises; his duty to his country and his men justifies it. Arguments over his absence lead to phone call scenes with Adam’s Dana worthy of a regular mid-afternoon soap opera.
While Adams and Jordan show off a few momentary sparks of charm when they share the screen, it’s astonishing, unhappily, to see them run through such terribly sentimental material with moments of broad, mundane comedy.
Adam’s considerable talent for nuance present in previous releases such as “Roxanne Roxanne” or “The Photograph” keeps her, and the film as a whole, afloat with a degree of emotional authenticity, even though her performance is ultimately marred by the hammered tone. Jordan particularly plays the patriotic character, similar to his other unimpressive performance this year in the equally underwhelming action thriller “No remorse” – in both cases his role seems reduced to “a man good with guns.” .
The shock prevails as Washington is remembered to have excelled at the helm several times before in the making of feature films, no later than “Fences” in 2016, which won Viola Davis an Oscar, making of “Journal” a real puzzle, completely saccharine and moralizing failure.
Aesthetically dated even in its contemporary scenes, “Journal” is shot and edited with pacing and framing choices akin to a low-budget sitcom in its interiors and a lifetime movie elsewhere. Lifeless in its drab color palette that makes every item on the screen look like a stock prop borrowed from another setting, the film at least pays attention to the details of the era, especially cellphones and the computer technology. It is only in war sequences, especially an explosion sequence, that the production value improves minimally.
As harmless as “Diary” may sound, its hyper-emphasis on male characters – Charles and possibly Jordan – looks like a disservice to the professional accomplishments of its female protagonist. Anything that may have been the center of Dana’s life, her journalistic efforts or any personal activity unrelated to Charles, vanishes from the plot once she becomes his girlfriend. His whole arc as a character is about waiting for him or talking about him.
Once that ordeal reaches 2018, as young Jordan (Jalon Christian) wants to learn more about his father and begins to embrace some of his traits, the storyline doubles its parade of platitudes expressed in the most egregious lines of dialogue: “Love is the only thing worth fighting for,” or “That’s what heroes do. Under-explored but nonetheless important in this section is the mention of Jordan’s lighter skin, attributed to Charles’ mother, and how Jordan’s black identity is questioned.
“A Journal for Jordan” gives a positive image of a black family, even idealistic in conservative America’s eyes, in that it focuses on career-motivated individuals without major financial hardship, but its presentation and his view of the world borders on military propaganda. Certainly among the worst films of the year given the renowned talent involved, this inspirational drama stains Washington directorial filmography.
“A Journal for Jordan” hits theaters in the US on December 25th.