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Saturday, February 16, 2008

DAY ZERO -- DVD Review by porfle

What would you do if your life as you know it was going to end in 30 days? That's the problem facing the main characters of DAY ZERO (2007), three New Yorker buddies who get a "greetings" from the U.S. government in the mail after an escalation in our military involvement in the Middle East has led to a reinstatement of the draft.

You'll probably recognize yourself in one of the three. James (Jon Bernthal, WORLD TRADE CENTER) is a tough, self-confident cabbie who has no doubts about going to war--in his mind, he's serving his country and fighting for the freedom that so many take for granted. George (Chris Klein, AMERICAN PIE, WE WERE SOLDIERS), on the other hand, is about to make senior partner in his law firm, and his wife Molly (Ginnifer Goodwin, MONA LISA SMILE) is recovering from cancer. So, going off to war is the last thing he wants to do. And then there's Aaron (Elijah Wood), a childlike, good-natured weakling who's terrified of the prospect but is too timid to do anything but be swept along by it.

James' resolve is tested when he meets the girl of his dreams, Patricia (Elisabeth Moss, THE ATTIC), only weeks before "day zero." When his boyhood pal George announces that he intends to do everything he can to keep from going, they have a falling out that threatens their friendship. In one harrowing scene, George grabs a meat cleaver and spreads his hand over a cutting board, desperate to solve his problem with one quick chop. Aaron, meanwhile, makes a list of the top ten things he wants to do for the first time in the thirty days he has left. They include skydiving and having sex with a hooker. One of these he accomplishes, while the other proves too frightening.

Robert Malkani's script and Bryan Gunnar Cole's direction are low-key and don't rely on "big" moments of contrived drama or over-the-top dialogue to juice up the story. The thirty-day deadline to induction gives the film a natural momentum--it progresses inexorably toward "day zero" like a slow train without brakes, and the three men have no choice except to stay on or jump off. News of the ever-worsening war is always in the background, as are increasing protests and unrest. (A reference to some post 9-11 terrorist act in which "they took down that building in L.A." compounds the stakes.) Having faced the unnerving prospect of getting drafted and shipped off to Viet Nam in my teens, I could identify with what these guys were going through.

All three leads are believable and likable in their roles. Elisabeth Moss, whose performance in THE ATTIC won me over, is good here as well. As Mara, a young girl with a troubled home life who seeks solace with her sympathetic friend James whenever possible, 15-year-old Sofia Vassilieva ("Cindy Brady" of THE BRADY BUNCH IN THE WHITE HOUSE) is effective in her brief screen time. And former brat-packer Ally Sheedy is cold and creepy as Aaron's self-absorbed psychiatrist Dr. Reynolds, who paints her nails and does crossword puzzles during his clearly pointless sessions.

The last days before DAY ZERO find James questioning his priorities, George agonizing over his only available alternatives, and Aaron starting to scare us as he begins to drift farther into Travis Bickle territory. How these guys come together to help each other through their ordeal, and how each of them eventually ends up, makes for an emotionally involving story that also raises the question of how we ourselves might deal with such a dilemma which, for many of us, could very well become a reality someday.


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