Sometimes a movie refuses to be about what it should be about. Stubbornly, it resists the obvious, and you come to resent it for doing so. In the case of Day Zero, a near-future drama set in an America where the national draft has been reinstated, that means trotting out a premise of great, combustible potential, assembling a trio of thirtyish high-school friends, all of them recent draftees facing deployment, and allowing them to talk themselves into a Big Chill–esque stupor about everything except the war. Did screenwriter Robert Malkani consider such a possibility too passé?
Instead, we have neurotic writer Aaron (Wood) straining comically under the weight of a fitness machine, yuppie lawyer George (Klein) hoping to maximize his Beltway connections and Bickle-like cabbie Dixon (Bernthal, the sharpest of the three) flirting with a local schoolteacher. The ramifications of their forced sacrifice—especially to feed the Iraq war—are barely acknowledged, a timidity that some will find unconscionably objectionable. (Spike Lee’s similarly themed 25th Hour explores this kind of personal countdown with far greater sensitivity.) As an aside, we hear that Los Angeles has also suffered its own 9/11. Good thing we still have an independent cinema to take on the hard topics.