by Andrew Jupin
All the films about the war in Iraq that have come out thus far—documentary or narrative—have either dealt with topics that have happened or are continuing to happen still. However none of those films go so far as to attempt to predict the future. Well, not so much predict the future, but to at least provide a certain “What If?” scenario to a question on the mind’s of many Americans; that question being what will happen if the United States decides to reinstate the Draft? That is the idea behind Bryan Gunnar Cole’s debut feature, Day Zero.
The film centers around three friends living in New York City, all of whom are called up when the drafting process is reinstated. Proving that the Draft could and would affect any and all citizens, the three friends come from three very different walks of life. There is the married, WASP-ish lawyer, played by Chris Klein; the hard-working cabbie from a broken home, played by Jon Bernthal; and let’s not forget the timid, tiny writer, played by Elijah Wood.
All three guys find out they have thirty days to prepare to report for boot camp and throughout the next ninety-five minutes, they try to decide what they are going to do with themselves. The obvious options are laid out just as expected: the privileged lawyer tries to get his father to call in a favor to pardon him from duty so he doesn't have to leave his wife (Ginnifer Goodwin), the cab driver wants to stand up and fight for freedom and the writer is neurotic and not sure what to do with himself.
I think what turns out to be unexpected in the film is where the three wind up in the end. Some things are left ambiguous and others just seem to fall out of nowhere. All three principle actors do very well with the material they are given from a fairly decent screenplay by Robert Malkani. The weakest angle is unfortunately Wood’s storyline; his job is to wander the film attempting to complete a list of “Top Ten” things he wishes to do before he leaves for the service, a task set out for him by his shrink (a terribly dry and boring Ally Sheedy). While his vignettes are entertaining, they certainly don't amount to much.
The problem with other recent “What if…” historical fabrication films is that they take the form of seriously done fauxcumentaries. The two films I’m talking about are CSA: The Confederate States of America, a film that surmises what the country would be like if the South had won the Civil War, and Death of a President, the glib little film that takes a look back at the fictitious assassination of George W. Bush. Because they take on the guise of a documentary, these films wind up being nothing more than ridiculous re-creations and endless minutes of stock footage. I think something that Day Zero does right is it takes the “What if…” fabrication and puts it in a narrative structure and lets believable, real characters sort out the issue at hand. While not all parts of the film do a phenomenal job, the overall feel of the film is one of realistic darkness or semi-impending doom. If anything, it’s bound to encourage you to make damn well sure you’re registered to vote come November.
Day Zero was released on DVD February 26th 2008.