Day Zero

Director: Brian Gunnar Cole

“It’s our turn, guys. It’s only fair,” James Dixon (Jon Bernthal) reasons to his two best friends only a few scenes into director Brian Gunnar Cole’s feature film debut. In trying to air on the side of logic and patriotic duty, James argues the positive of the situation that finds the three friends all summoned for service in the American military from a reinstated draft that had lured sixteen million men into the armed forces from World War I through Vietnam before its suspension. Now, set in the near distant future of a world not only hit hard from the attacks of 9/11 but another lethal fictitious attack on Los Angeles, the draft has been made active again. According to the film, the draft coincides with our war on terror overseas growing much larger, encompassing other countries and the unfortunate need for an estimated twenty-five thousand additional troops is discussed on the radio has hopefully been satisfied by increasing the maximum draftable age to thirty-five years old, not only recruiting just college age men but leaders in corporate America as well.

While cab driver James Dixon eagerly looks forward to follow in the long line of soldiers in his family before he falls in love with a sociology graduate student (Elisabeth Moss), the timing couldn’t be worse for his two friends, neurotic writer Aaron Feller (Elijah Wood) halfway through his follow up book to his first successful work and married lawyer George Rifkin (Chris Klein) who has just been made partner of his firm and also can’t bear the thought of being away from his loving cancer survivor wife Molly (Ginnifer Goodwin) who’s recently made it to her five year disease free status. George’s actions to try and find a loophole out of the contract with Uncle Sam and Aaron’s increasingly erratic behavior after his indifferent therapist (Ally Sheedy) inspires him to create and carry out the items of a top ten list send him chasing down new experiences such as skydiving to far riskier fare, further alienate Dixon from his friends. Although, it seems illogical that three very different characters would remain this close for years and at times their actions seem far too contrived to believe and instead feel like they're just hitting some required notes in the “soldier movie” clich√© list, it’s a compelling film made all the more timely given our fears of what kind of global climate has been evolving since we invaded Iraq.

While we’re always riveted by Klein and especially the fiery and passionate Bernthal, ultimately it is veteran actor Wood who is given the most highly unbelievable role of the film as a young man whose actions defy common sense as he begins to lose his grip of reality far too quickly. Adding insult to injury, the ultimately vague and perfunctory conclusion feels like a cheat to audiences who’ve invested time and emotion in the tale and it seems that director Cole and writer Robert Malkani quit filming about one or two vital minutes too early, as a more decisive action by one of the two characters we see in the final sequence would’ve had a greater impact than it’s passive blink-and-you-missed-it conclusion. For a better film about the moral quandaries of fighting our current war, look for Kimberly Peirce’s Stop Loss coming to theatres in a few weeks but Cole and Malkani at least receive admirable points for effort and intention for a work that, although uneven, never fails to make us think.