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Overall Rating

Awesome: 31.25%
Worth A Look34.38%
Average: 6.25%
Pretty Bad: 6.25%
Total Crap: 21.88%

2 reviews, 20 user ratings

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Day Zero
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by Marc Kandel

"Haunting exploration of an America too familiar for comfort."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: Not an overt horror film, “Day Zero” is nonetheless a frightening ordeal, characters inhaling thick lungfuls of dread in a world close enough to our own to give the viewer a sense of unease and trepidation witnessing a situation told with such skill that the film prompts that ever important question, “What would I do?”.

Day Zero counts down 30 days amongst three friends, each with a different set of social and professional circumstances, who must report for military service when the draft is reinstated in America for all males ages 18-35 as war in the Middle East escalates following a terrorist attack in Los Angeles similar to the attacks of September 11th.

George Rifkin (Chris Klien) has made partner at a prestigious law firm and his wife (Ginnifer Goodwin) has entered year five being cancer-free, a 98% rate of survival after strenuous, costly treatments; for the first time, they have a chance to live out of death’s shadow in a position of financial security bordering on opulence. Dixon (Jon Bernthal) is the atypical NY dude, a street smart alpha type making a modest living as a cabbie, entering a relationship with a woman unaware of his draft, and playing sometime surrogate father to a young girl in his apartment building who prefers his company to her junkie parents. Aaron Feller (Elijah Wood), the baby of the trio, defers to the stronger personalities of his friends. He is a physically slight, neurotic young author with one published work under his belt providing a degree of success he appears to take little pleasure in, struggling through a new novel amid a constant avalanche of radio news reports coming out of the war zone that effectively block any creative thought as he sits in front of a blank screen.

Dixon is at peace with serving, almost eager. A patriot, he believes in the necessity of earning freedom and giving back to a country that has granted him the privilege of choice, even the choice to do nothing in particular with his life. George frantically searches for a way out, petitioning his father who has some influence with a senator, researching the various arguments and tactics for dismissal from service including conscientious objectivity, homosexuality and self-mutilation. Dixon is disgusted and offended by George’s refusal to serve his country from both class and loyalty standpoints. Aaron, caught between Dixon and George’s feud, is resigned to serving but frightened of his inability to keep up with the physical demands of army life, much less combat. He bumbles his way through the 30 days haphazardly following a list of 10 things to do before reporting for duty, a cover for the paralyzing terror he feels, which he desperately tries to reconcile.

Day Zero doesn’t engage the politics, instead going for visceral reactions from individuals dealing with their mortality, far more intelligent than burying emotional intensity under topical news and political rhetoric. It's a great September 11th reflection film- far more engaging than similar sociological examinations such as Spike Lee’s 25th Hour, a decent film close in structure but lacking in is ability to draw the audience into the situations of the characters as effectively (really, who didn’t want Ed Norton’s smug character to get punched in the face repeatedly? And that “what happened next” fiasco? Ok, digression over, sorry- it’s not a bad film, but Day Zero is better and more clear in its intentions).

The performances are excellent. Characters wade in tension and fear, even Dixon, who accepts his lot but in his most private moments stares into the darkness wide eyed with apprehension at the fighting and dying to come. Ginnifer Goodwin is a standout amongst the supporting cast, a survivor who must watch her husband’s struggle with the draft, a death sentence of sorts not unlike the cancer he has seen her through. Elijah Wood puts in a career best here- simultaneously hilarious and disturbing.

The three leads carry the movie on their backs with strengths, weaknesses and stakes any member of the audience can relate to, and this is where the movie’s true success lies- in its ability to have the audience living in these hard times vicariously through these men, so alike in their reactions, fears, insecurities and strategies. We never see the battlefield, we don’t go to boot camp (the closest we get is Penn Station where the men must catch their train to their service location, so familiar to any of us locals, now a portal to war, the familiar turned insidious), but we can see everything these men know they will go through in their faces, and we must wonder how we would react in their place- the true mark of a successful story.

Director Bryan Gunnar Cole manages to inject a surprising amount of comedy throughout the proceedings, keeping the audience from being battered with the raw emotions and crushing severity of the situation. The laughs are most prominent in Elijah Wood’s bumbling, pitiable quest to toughen up mentally and physically for the rigors of army life (including amusing interludes with Ally Sheedy as an apathetic shrink preferring crossword puzzles to Wood’s anxieties). The humor is so well interspersed amongst the pathos it’s worth taking special note of Cole’s skill at balancing the flow of the story in this fashion, spooning a generous portion of the absurd to make the harder medicine go down.

I had trouble accepting one scene, a bonding moment between the protagonists in a boat cabin, each sharing the absolute worst things they’ve ever done. Distracting Jaws homage aside, the revelations pretty much telegraph the climactic punch and I could extrapolate exactly what the final fates would be for the characters well before film’s end. The exception might be Aaron, whose secret is most telling of his core personality, yet another scene where he seeks Dixon’s aid after being taken advantage of by a local thug makes for a more active form of personal revelation, his tale perhaps better served following on the heels of this encounter. George’s tale on the other hand is so traumatic his final choice becomes inevitable, the conflict of being torn from his wife irrevocably shuffled to the side. Dixon’s secret is the scene in every film involving a kid from the tough neighborhood suffering abusive parentage; true though it may ring in the actor’s performance we know enough about the character that the information is extraneous, needlessly hitting us with a well-worn cliché that provides no new insights. Dixon’s true reveal is much more affecting; as he must deal with both his romantic relationship and his fathering of his neighbor’s daughter, his emotion for the women in his life finally giving him something to lose.

For that one disagreement with the filmmaker’s choices (and in the case of George’s tale one I’m still mulling over as its inclusion does have some merit to the overall plot), I consider the whole a truly magnificent effort that I hope finds support and distribution.

I haven’t been able to see much of what Tribeca Film Festival has to offer this year, but I’m confident I’ve seen one of the best it has on hand.

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originally posted: 05/05/07 23:41:33
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User Comments

1/10/09 Lee kinda boring, lame acting, nothing impressive 3 stars
5/27/08 Jeroen Corsolac I feel stupid -- did either George or Dixon end up reporting to the draft 4 stars
3/12/08 chico film was utter shite 1 stars
2/17/08 porfle Low-key but involving. I liked it. 4 stars
1/21/08 Beth I enjoyed this film. I thought Jon Bernthal stole the show. 4 stars
12/17/07 Pete Shallow. I was an observer - couldn't care about the characters. 3 stars
7/17/07 Gonzo Caught the Tribeca premiere - amazing film, great performances! 5 stars
7/06/07 Edward Patterson Best Elijah Wood Performance to Date 5 stars
6/28/07 Gwen This sounds like a timely topic to bring to audiences. I hope distribution is found soon. 4 stars
6/15/07 Angel This film deserves worldwide distribution! A definite must-see! 5 stars
5/21/07 Phil Directing, B minus. Writing, D minus. Awful dialogue, not bad premise. 2 stars
5/19/07 Doug TV Movie of the Week. Cliched writing and unbelievable relationships. 2 stars
5/13/07 Kerri Honest and emotional. A must see! 5 stars
5/11/07 cynthia This is the kind of well-written and thoughtful movie we need in our age. Powerful. 5 stars
5/10/07 Lauran When's it coming, when's it coming? All my friends want to see it too! 5 stars
5/08/07 Mike The best at Tribeca this year. Everyone should see this. 5 stars
5/07/07 Meryl Sensitve, well-acted and thought-provoking. Highly recommended. 4 stars
5/07/07 Joyce I found the movie eerily suspenseful, tragic with a touch of humor; an absolute must see 5 stars
5/07/07 Lynne Timely, thought-provoking, disturbing. I hope it gets wide distribution. It must be seen. 5 stars
5/07/07 Brenda I've seen the movie at Tribeca and was impressed. I hope it'll find a distributor soon! 5 stars
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  DVD: 26-Feb-2008



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