Director Denzel Washington and his stars do their best with this bland, shallow and awkwardly structured film. It’s a romantic drama based on the bestselling 2008 memoir from publisher and former New York Times reporter Dana Canedy, about the journal that her soldier husband Charles Monroe King wrote for their infant son Jordan just before Charles’s death in Iraq – telling Jordan how to respect women, himself and his country.
Chanté Adams plays Canedy, a young New York journalist in the 90s who falls hard for Charles (Michael B Jordan): a sweet, idealistic guy in the US army who has no desire for her to abandon her career for him. So they are apart a lot when he is training, and then, tragically, seeing action in the Middle East. The narrative jolts episodically back and forth between the early days of their relationship, their happiness living together and her grim and lonely widowhood and single-motherhood in which she has some supportive female friends and the regulation Gay Male Friend (very similar to the one in The Devil Wears Prada). There is a particularly jarring moment when Dana reacts to the breaking story of 9/11 in the New York Times newsroom and then, before she or we have absorbed the horror of that, the story unsatisfyingly shifts to her life much later, an entirely different situation.
The awful truth about how Charles actually met his end is of course saved for the end, but he actually had a first wife and daughter (that is, Jordan’s half-sister) whom we never see on screen. Apart from one or two mentions they are bafflingly – and heartlessly – excluded from the story. Dana’s own professional situation isn’t great: we see two smug male journalists undermining her at work, taking her story away from her, using her single-motherhood against her. How did that situation pan out? We aren’t told.
And the all-important journal itself is not very interesting or powerful. There doesn’t have to be a Nicholas Sparks-type twist, but the document itself needed to have some impact. A disappointment.