Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Cast: Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Richard Jenkins, Henry Thomas, Scott Porter, Leslea Fisher, Cullen Moss
RunTime: 1 hr 48 mins
Released By: GV
Official Website: http://www.dearjohn-movie.com/
Opening Day: 25 February 2010
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom and based on the novel by best-selling author Nicholas Sparks, DEAR JOHN tells the story of John Tyree (Channing Tatum), a young soldier home on leave, and Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried), the idealistic college student he falls in love with during her spring vacation. Over the next seven tumultuous years, the couple is separated by John's increasingly dangerous deployments. While meeting only sporadically, they stay in touch by sending a continuous stream of love letters overseas'correspondence that eventually triggers fateful consequences.
You’re either a Nicholas Sparks fan or you’re not- it’s as simple as that. Since his sensational debut in 2004 with “The Notebook”, Sparks has written 15 novels to date and established himself as a regular fixture on the bestsellers list. His by-now established formula is a bittersweet blend of romance and death, where love’s fervour is confronted with life’s fragility. Of course, some prefer to just call it melodrama, but that term is too simplistic to reflect the elegance of Sparks’ feel-good weepies.
“Dear John” is such a story, and those who criticise the film for what it isn’t and what it was never meant to be are simply missing the point. This is a through and through a Nicholas Sparks product in its themes, its characters and their circumstances. Appreciating it in this regard makes a whole lot of difference- for once you accept that you’re watching a big-screen realization of a Sparks’ novel, you’ll find that Lasse Hallstrom’s film is really as good as it gets.
First and foremost, Hallstrom gets the casting of his two star-crossed lovers- John Tyree and Savannah- and the rest of his characters right spot-on. Channing Tatum may not be the most expressive young actor around, but he displays a surprising amount of emotional depth for his character, a quiet mild-mannered Special Forces soldier who falls in love with college student Savannah. Especially moving is a scene Tatum shares with his autistic father (Richard Jenkins) as he comes to terms with a dad who never really knew how to express his love for his son. If anything, Tatum’s restrained acting (that’s a more polite way of saying he’s usually wooden) suits the maudlin tone of the film nicely, reining in what could have been over-the-top histrionics.
But the real star of the show is Seyfried, who burst into the Hollywood limelight with 2008’s “Mamma Mia!” and continues to display great potential as an actress. Here Seyfried embodies the spirit of a bright young ingénue caught up in the heady throes of an undying love for someone she is forced to be apart from. Tatum and Seyfried share great chemistry, eliciting honest, sincere and heartfelt performances from each other as they invite you to experience their joys and sorrows on their quest for true love.
It is this journey that Hallstrom has masterfully plotted with good help from screenwriter Jamie Linden. Through their courtship and their physical separation, Hallstrom directs with a graceful touch that doesn’t trivialise Tyree and Savannah’s intense love but reaffirms it through their commitment and dedication to each other. In the hands of a lesser director, their affection could be no more than schmaltz- but Hallstrom’s montage as they exchange sweet nothings captures perfectly their passion and their sentiments.
Just as nuanced is Hallstrom’s treatment of the other characters in the movie, two of whom are autistic- Tyree’s father and Savannah’s neighbour’s young son, Alan. Through Alan, Hallstrom portrays the physical and emotional challenges a parent faces when taking care of an autistic child, in particular the perennial worry of who’s to look after the child when he/she is gone. Through Tyree’s father, Hallstrom portrays the physical and emotional challenges that an autistic parent faces when trying to relate with his normal son, where the parent’s inherent problems with social contact interferes with his innate desire to express love and affection for his child.
It is these predicaments- chief of which of course is a couple’s separation thanks to the still-ongoing war on terror- and the real emotions behind people who share these predicaments that propel Sparks’ novel and this consequent movie adaptation above the typical melodrama. There’s no denying it is a tearjerker, but “Dear John” is so because it reflects the love we all seek and our endeavours to try to express that love as best we can- and given its honesty and dignity, it more than deserves that extra Kleenex you’re bound to need.
(Hallstrom’s perfectly nuanced treatment and Tatum and Seyfried’s heartfelt performances make this one of the best adaptations of a Nicholas Sparks novel)
Review by Gabriel Chong