Jordan Canedy is a wide-eyed baby with excellent lungs at the start of “A Journal for Jordan.” At the movie’s end, he’s becoming a young man, one with traits that his soldier father, Charles Monroe King, had hoped for when he began writing a yet-to-be-born Jordan advice in a notebook while stationed in Iraq.
In 2006, while on patrol in Baghdad, First Sgt. King was killed by a roadside bomb. Dana Canedy, King’s fiancé and the mother of their infant son, was then a senior editor at The New York Times. Her 2007 article “From Father to Son, Last Words to Live By,” led to her to write the elegant book about love, loss and legacy upon which this movie is based, and with which it shares its title.
So don’t be fooled by that touching title: The journal, in which Canedy added her own stories to King’s writing, is as much the work of a grieving mother driven to make sure her son knows the love story that brought him into the world as it is a devoted father’s guide to decency and manhood.
Denzel Washington directs this adaptation (the screenplay is by Virgil Williams) with care, respect and a deep-seated knowledge of the Black love stories that don’t make it to the big screen nearly enough. The actors Michael B. Jordan and Chanté Adams are similarly attuned, bringing a compelling chemistry as opposites who fall for each other.
In the movie, Dana meets Charles on a visit to her parents’ home near Fort Knox, Ky. Charles is chiseled, polite and oh-so good looking. He sends a gentle helping of “ma’ams” her way. She appraises him. He’s a 10-and-2 kind of driver. She reaches from the passenger side to blare the horn. Though different, their attraction is palpable. It also helps that they are both single (sort of). He’s going through a divorce, and she recently ended a relationship.
Michael B. Jordan embraces Charles’s rigorous ethos as well as his tenderness. Charles might drop for morning push-ups, but he’ll also bow his head for grace at a restaurant. He travels with push-up bars but also a sketch pad. If Dana sees a flaw, it may be Charles’s single-minded devotion to his soldiers. She has her own doubts about being a military wife.
Canedy acknowledged her edges (and curves) in her book, and Adams embodies them in her portrayal. When she begins writing her son, Jordan, her anecdotes can be frank, or frisky. She even shares a doozy of an argument, the kind that either breaks up a couple or makes them stronger.
While the movie makes it clear that Dana and Charles are successful, it doesn’t always get at the labor necessary to get them there, both as a couple and as individuals. While it’s easy to rely on the shorthand of countless wartime movies to signal Charles’s ascendancy, Dana’s own story deserves a few more beats.
A Journal for Jordan
Rated PG-13 for a loving and passionate congress, salty language and brief marijuana use. Running time: 2 hours 11 minutes. In theaters.