8 May 2007 | edwpat
Elijah Wood's Best Performance to Date
It's 30 days before DAY ZERO, when three friends are to be drafted into the army during the raging war in Iraq. They react to the news and somehow come to terms with reality. On this simple (even thin) premise, Brian Cole crafts a well balanced 90 minutes, which manages to cloud a specific or biased point-of-view. Sure, there's anti-war clambering and patriotic posturing. There's plenty of flag waving and flag burning, but this film is not about the draft or serving one's country. As a reviewer who has already been drafted to face a war (in Viet-nam) and had to grapple with decisions that would ultimately shape the remainder of my life, I know this film is about "the inner self"the draft being the catalyst and the reactions mere symptoms to the rumbling of the human spirit or the lack there of.
The three stars carry the film a long way and beyond. Chris Klein as George Rifkin represents the majority view, that the draft is a life interrupter. One never gets the impression that George is a coward. He just wants to continue his law practice, enjoy his family and wife; and ultimately, his anti-draft stance festers from resentment to anger. Jon Bernthal as James Dixon represents the patriotic view, that "it had to happen sooner or later," and everyone should stand up and fight terrorism. He is a violent and disturbed man, short fused and drives a taxi for a living, quite a contrast from George. He imprints his views on his friends without hesitation, but when he meets a girl, his views are somewhat tempered. Elijah Wood, in his best performance on screen to date (yes, even better than Mr. Baggins), plays Aaron Feller, a naïve, fragile man, who has just published his first novel and is working on the second. He is thrown into a panic by the draft notice. He looks for help in all the right places, and doesn't find it. He then looks in all the wrong places, and does. He manages to face his inner demon and takes the appropriate corrective action.
The three friends interact with great chemistry. While Wood carries the film's main theme and presents it with pathos and comedy, the more political and preachy messages come from Klein and Bernthal. Bernthal's raging approach to life is engaging. He is always there for his friends, but not without cost. He chews up the scenery. Klein, on the other hand, gets the more conventional row to hoe, with everything from draft dodger to conscientious objector. He whines and bleats and tears his hair out (figuratively. Wood loses his, literally). Between Bernthal and Klein, we have Macbeth and King Lear, so it is up to Wood to bring the real interest. He crafts his character from thin air, as his scenes are mostly interspersed vignettes that are visually appealing and pathetically comic. In fact, Wood's sense of comedic timing matches the great stars of cinema, like Chaplin. He takes us from entertaining comic relief to riveting drama as Aaron takes a roller coaster ride from naïve to psychosis in 30 days to Day Zero.
This film has only been screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, where I am sure it will win awards and be picked up by a distributor (if not, the film industry is blind). It demonstrates that in the hands of a thinking director, three strong actors can create storms in tea cups. It also provides the viewing audience with Elijah Wood's best of many great performances on celluloid, and for an actor nearing his 40th film, it is a landmark. A
Edward C. Patterson