Originating from the pen of The Nobebook author Nicholas Sparks, Dear John is a similarly-themed tale of lovers parted by time and distance. It may not have the grand cinematic sweep of Nick Cassavetes's 2004 drama, but it's a moving and quietly devastating film that cranks the blub factor up to ten. Already a hit Stateside having stopped Avatar's record-breaking box office run, John is destined to repeat its success in the UK on the back of strong turns from its easy-on-the-eyes stars Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum.
That's not to say it's an outstanding work - for long stretches it shamelessly wallows in tragedy and tugs at the heartstrings, but there's enough to like about its two up-and-coming leads to keep you onboard for their rollercoaster relationship. The story finds soldier John Tyree (Tatum) returning home on leave and falling for pretty blonde college student Savannah Curtis (Seyfried). Both are well-meaning, good people, though John occasionally reveals a dark side that he's tried to reign in since his teen years. With her annoying pal Randy (Scott Porter) and the reformed rebel John as potential suitors, it's no surprise to see the latter send her heart aflutter.
The pair enjoy a brief summer fling, both bonding with John's coin-obsessed, possibly autistic father (an understated Richard Jenkins), before he's called back by the army. Letter writing soon commences as the couple continue their romance from different continents. As John's military term comes to an end the 9/11 terror attacks happen and he's faced with the prospect of re-enlisting for another year like the rest of his army pals, or returning home. In the end, his sense of duty wins out, leaving his relationship with Savannah hanging by a thread.
John's decision to sacrifice happiness at home in favour of the adrenaline rush of war comes across as a poor man's Hurt Locker and at times the film is crassly manipulative (when Savannah mentions that she hopes to start a riding school for disabled children it's groan-inducing in the extreme). It is, however, a story that knows its audience, isn't afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve and is upfront from the start about its tearjerker intentions.
The success of the film rests on Tatum and Seyfried and whether or not they can strike up some onscreen heat. Thankfully, they're up to the challenge and for all John's broad brushstroke characterisations, see-sawing emotions and uninspiring direction (from Cider House Rules Oscar nominee Lasse Hallström) it's a perfectly fine chick flick. The more the barriers between John and Savannah build up, becoming seemingly unmovable, the more you want to see them get back together - that's what keeps Dear John engaging until the credits roll.
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