By Dirk Sonniksen | February 4, 2010
Director: Lasse Hallström
Writer(s): Jamie Linden (screenplay), Nicholas Sparks (Novel)
Starring: Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Richard Jenkins, Henry Thomas
John Tyree (Channing Tatum) is Army Special Forces on leave from Germany, catching some waves in Charleston, SC, when he spots Savannah (Amanda Seyfried) hanging out with friends. The two strike up a conversation, and it’s not long before love is in full bloom. There’s lots of good times going on, like dinner, long beach walks, and laughing…and Savannah meeting John’s introverted dad (Richard Jenkins) who likes coins. It’s a love story, down to the part when John has to head back to Germany, with Savannah vowing to wait for his return. But the prototypical love story takes a back seat when the unthinkable happens, and John is caught between “reupping” to serve his country in its ultimate time of need, or returning to his new-found love in Charleston.
Dear John is a love story that doesn’t get too bogged down with sappy nonsense. It certainly has its moments when you might consider a bathroom break to spare yourself the more mundane dialogue that comes with this genre, but there is plenty of story here to keep things moving along. In fact, moving things along is a feature that makes Dear John worth seeing. Director Lasse Hallström keeps a fairly quick pace, with a solid, dramatic back-story balancing out those heart-felt moments that can tend to drag love stories into the depths of the ridiculous. Giving even more credence to the film is a cinematic style that, while not anything revolutionary, is certainly noteworthy. Hallström is no fledgling director, showing his skills as a filmmaker behind the camera in such films as The Cider House Rules (1999) and Chocolat (2000).
A keen eye for casting definitely helped this film, with Channing Tatum a solid choice as the stoic outsider struggling to come to grips with his father’s issues, and his role as a soldier with a less-than-perfect past. Amanda Seyfried proves she can do the romantic drama, putting more emphasis on the drama than the romance. Richard Jenkins? Well, he’s a seasoned actor that brings life to any role (absolutely brilliant in The Visitor). His performance as John’s troubled father brings a refreshing angle to the film and really rounds out the story. Henry Thomas proves he’s come a long way from playing Elliott in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and it would be a welcome sight to see more of him in the future.
Dear John will certainly appeal more to a female audience with it being tagged as a romantic drama, but there are enough elements here to attract the male moviegoer as well. Hallström had the good sense to make Tatum’s character appealing to the men in the audience, more as a understated badass, and not some hapless fool in love. In addition, Dear John comprises fundamental details left out of many romantic dramas, such as good character development, solid performances, and a well-written script by Jamie Linden. My guess is that Dear John will not be a blockbuster, but it is this reviewers’ hope that it will not be ignored.