“Dear John”, directed by Lasse Hallstrom, written by Jamie Linden and Nicholas Sparks, tells a love story between Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried), a college student, and John Tyree (Channing Tatum), a Green Beret on leave from duty in the Middle East. She’s attractive, popular, and comes from a wealthy family. He’s a ruggedly handsome outsider raised by his father Mr. Tyree (Richard Jenkins). They meet after he jumps off a pier to retrieve her purse and they continue their relationship via letters after he returns to combat. Though their respective letters illuminate and inspire each other’s life the plot takes a turn when hers dwindle down to a trickle, culminating in the hardly-unexpected Dear John one.
As the young woman smitten by and then in love with the shy but don’t-mess-with-him John, Seyfried emits a radiance that enchants and captivates. She’s confident of her feelings toward him, isn’t intimidated by his brooding hunkiness, and isn’t afraid to suggest, as an embryonic special needs teacher, that his taciturn, slightly-off father might have a learning disability. Tatum’s John is more of a stereotype – the troubled youth who got his act together after he joined the Army. He’s charming and polite; the scenes in which he’s in the middle of some Nowhere-Hell, writing letters that finally let him express his deepest feelings, is touching but he doesn’t quite manage to pull off the nuances of a character whose early troubles began when his mother inexplicably left home. Jenkins’ performance of a taciturn father who had nothing in common with his son except for a passion for coin collecting didn’t hit a false note. It was his eyes – though he didn’t have much to say, they blazed with the passion and fury of Things Not Said. And Henry Thomas gave a nicely shaded performance as Tim, the friend of Savannah’s family, whose interest in her was not just almost-paternal.
Credit must go to Hallstrom for the film’s pacing. Though John often found himself in unimaginable danger and though Savannah and John initial summer fling took off like a bottle rocket, the courtship and its complications gracefully unfolded, reflecting the back-and-forth time frame of the snail mail letters: a letter is received, a response written, and time passes for its delivery. All along we wondered to whom John’s voiceover at beginning, after he had been shot, was addressed. It wasn’t to whom we thought. And when John got that fated letter announcing that Savannah was engaged, neither did we guess to whom.
The problem with the film comes out of what made it good. Obviously Seyfried and Tatum were chosen for their buoyant good looks, which served them well for most of the film. But after a few years have lapsed – and both have suffered great losses – they look just as chipper and perky as on the day they met, which squandered the credibility each had earned up to that point. The ending – a happy one, of course – was clumsily set up; if a movie could tank because of its final fifteen seconds, this one’s it.