Day Zero (March 2/08)
Though hindered by a period emphasis on melodrama and a deeply unsatisfying conclusion, Day Zero is nevertheless an engaging little drama that benefits from the stellar performances of its various actors.
The film transpires in a reality that's very much like our own, with the key difference being the implementation of the military draft for the ongoing war in the Middle East. Three friends - Aaron (Elijah Wood), James (Jon Bernthal), and George (Chris Klein) - find themselves forced to make tough decisions after being conscripted into the controversial conflict, and the bulk of the movie follows each character as they attempt to deal with the news and make plans for the future.
The sporadically overwrought nature of Robert Malkani's script quickly proves to be Day Zero's most overt failing, as the screenwriter places the emphasis on a number of eye-rollingly silly plot developments (ie George flips out during a head-scratching trip to a gay bar). The reality of the situation is subsequently undermined by the inclusion of such melodramatic elements; Wood's character turns out to be the most obvious victim of Malkani's less-than-subtle screenplay, as his arc - which takes him from childlike goofball to Travis Bickle disciple - is nothing short of absurd.
That being said, Day Zero has been peppered with several undeniably effective segments - with the sequence in which Aaron, James, and George divulge the worst thing they ever did to one another easily the most obvious example of this. The uniformly strong work from the three central actors - Bernthal, in particular, delivers an intense performance that's often reminiscent of early De Niro - generally smooths over the film's various flaws, with the end result an effort that's entertaining almost in spite of itself (that finale, though... Sheesh).