Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
This is the fourth feature, directed by Denzel Washington. It’s his third feature that’s based on a true story. It’s also his first feature that he’s directed in which he’s not also an actor. Washington has starred or co-starred in his directorial works, starting with Antwone Fisher (2002). Nearly 20 years later, this film has the same feel as Antwone Fisher. Like Washington’s debut, this film involves a love story between two young Black people with a connection to the military. Like his first film, this one centers on a character who has a traumatic incident from their past that needs to be confronted and resolved. Yes, that sounds like the premise to a lot of dramatic films, but, this film, written by Oscar-nominee Virgil Williams (Mudbound), literally has a line, ripped from Antwone Fisher in it.
Antwone Fisher is more about addressing the traumatic incident. This one is more about addressing the love story and playing up the romance. Yet, there’s an issue of who or what the romance is really between. The film is purportedly about the romance between two young Black people, but, as the film progresses, it’s revealed that the romance is really between the Black man and the military. This film isn’t honest about that in the way that The Hurt Locker (2009) is honest about how a man puts military life ahead or above civilian life.
Chanté Adams (The Photograph and Roxanne Roxanne) stars as Dana Canedy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the first African-American to head a major publishing imprint in 2020. She won the Pulitzer in 2001 after she started working for The New York Times in 1996. In 2008, she wrote a book about the death of her fiancé who was killed in the Iraq War. Part of the book included a journal that her fiancé wrote for their son. Dana is from the Midwest but she’s made a life for herself in New York. She doesn’t want to change or lose that life.
Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther and Creed) co-stars as Charles Monroe King, a First Sergeant in the United States Army. He trained under Dana’s father. He’s divorced with a daughter. He’s a simple man who doesn’t dress to impress. He wears the same worn-out sneakers everywhere he goes. He’s very much a military man who addresses people as either sir or ma’am. He’s very much a country boy. His free time is spent mostly in the gym. Yet, he does have a passion for painting. When Dana visits her father for his birthday in 1998, she meets Charles who is giving her father a painting as a birthday present. His looks and manners charm her and with the encouragement of family and friends, she decides to pursue a relationship with him.
As mentioned, she has a life in New York that she’s not leaving. Charles though has a military life, which has him currently stationed in the Midwest, which he can’t or doesn’t want to leave either. Therefore, Dana and Charles have to engage in a long-distance relationship. It’s a relationship that’s maintained through phone calls. Eventually, Charles is able to visit Dana in person on the weekends in New York, but that’s only sporadically. His in-person visits are electric and they are very much drawn to each other, but, even Dana has her concerns over this long-distance relationship. Yet, Charles is able to convince her.
The film opens in some year after Dana and Charles meet. We learn rather quickly that Dana is a single mother who’s still pumping breast milk for her child. It’s not revealed immediately, but it becomes clear that the father of her child is Charles and that he has since died. The film then flashes back-and-forth, showing us how Dana and Charles fell in love, along with showing us how Dana is dealing with Charles’ death. In that, it’s not that different from Adams’ film The Photograph (2020). In that, Washington provides us with a very well done romantic drama between two Black people, which is something that is rare and much appreciated for representation’s sake. It’s also a memorial to a soldier who served and died for our country, so it’s a loving and fitting tribute. There is an aspect to it that I wish were explored more deeply that unexplored left the whole thing feeling too sentimental.
Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert!
As mentioned, this film ripped off a line from Antwone Fisher. That line is “I could eat.” In Antwone Fisher, when the female character is asking out the male character, she asks him if he’s hungry, and he responds with “I could eat.” In this film, there is a moment when the male character is asking out the female character and she responds with “I could eat.”
Yet, the real sticking point comes later in two scenes in particular. The first is when Dana is flying to Akron, Ohio, to meet Charles for a romantic weekend. He ditches her without returning her phone calls. He does so because he wants to spend time with his fellow soldiers. The second one is when Dana is pregnant and is about to give birth to Charles’ son. She asks Charles to come home to be there for the birth, but he refuses because he wants to spend time with soldiers again. In both instances, he felt as though the soldiers needed him more than the woman he loves, his fiancé and his child. In one scene, Dana even confronts Charles and says that he’s choosing his soldiers over her. It gets dismissed but the truth is that he did choose his soldiers over her and his son.
This might sound like a bad thing on his part, but there are a lot of men who put duty to country above everything else. For Charles to put his military service first isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This film though doesn’t give us enough of his military service to make us feel that pull for him. There’s one scene where we see Charles being a drill sergeant and leading a group of men, but that’s not enough. By the end, the only actual evidence that we have is him choosing his soldiers over the woman he loves and his own son. This film is mostly told from Dana’s point-of-view, which is understandable, but it makes the film a bit hollow being that ostensibly the film is about Charles.
Rated PG-13 for some sexual content, partial nudity, drug use and language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 11 mins.