Special Forces Army Sergeant John Tyree (Channing Tatum) is home with his coin collecting father (Richard Jenkins) on a two-week leave from Germany when he meets Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried), a college student at the University of North Carolina. Savannah falls deeply in love with John and as she is about to go back to college, she promises to write to John during the next 12-months until he returns to her. But their love is put to the test when John volunteers to extend his term of duty in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I suspect Nicholas Sparks' book, with the specifics of all the letters written makes a good read, the reader engaging and emoting freely, especially young, romantic women. As a film, even Lasse Hallstrom's giant talent can barely hold the film aloft on the strength of his direction and his cast's commitment. OK, so I'll qualify my remarks by stating that I'm not the target audience for Dear John.
And there are many good things to find in the film, notably young Kate Winslett-alike Amanda Seyfried's winsome performance as teenage Savannah, a level headed but nevertheless romantic young lady. Beefy, blokey Channing Tatum turns on the strong silent type charm and despite the age difference he makes for a credible suitor, soldier ... and son to his introverted dad, played with his usual proficiency by Richard Jenkins.
The film begins with a flashback scene on the battlefield, and when we return to it in the film's timeline, the meaning of John's voice over narration of a letter he has written is not what we had assumed. The subplot about the relationship between John and his dad is well managed as it weaves into the romance between John and Savannah, and there is a satisfying (if predictable) conclusion to it.
Paced leisurely, Dear John flows like a gentle river, occasionally caught in an eddy when we visit the battlefront, but mostly it focuses on the romance and its bumpy extension after John extends his tour of duty as a reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York - which is barely glimpsed as a news grab on a shopfront TV set in a foreign land as John walks by. (Although why the shop sign says Tigris Kávéház (Hungarian) but the TV news is subtitled in Russian is a mystery.)
Of course his is not a solo decision to fight on; his entire team of soldiers does the same, and it's this issue which really engages with us, as he tries vainly to explain to Savannah why he feels compelled to do it, when she means everything to him. On this hangs the film's entire point.
The story on the big screen seems slighter than intended; and perhaps that's because despite the references to 9/11 and American soldiers at war, its scale is not big enough for cinema; the fate of these two young lovers (their romance, that is) does not carry enough weight. The letters are not that interesting either, but then we only get a few short excerpts.
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DEAR JOHN (M)
CAST: Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Richard Jenkins, Henry Thomas, D.J. Cotrona, Cullen Moss, Gavin McCulley, Jose Lucena Jr, Keith Robinson, Scott Porter, Leslea Fisher
PRODUCER: Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Ryan Kavanaugh
DIRECTOR: Lasse Hallstrom
SCRIPT: Jamie Linden (novel by Nicholas Sparks)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Terry Stacey
EDITOR: Kristina Boden
MUSIC: Deborah Lurie
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kara LIndstrom
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 4, 2010