Today’s generation of young people is the first to come of age without conscripted military service, avoiding the fate of 16 million draftees in the period between World War I and the Vietnam conflict. In his feature film debut, director Bryan Gunnar Cole imagines a near future in which peace in the Middle East has yet to be achieved and another massive attack on American soil—this time Los Angeles—necessitates the reinstitution of the draft. Three best friends receive notice to report in 30 days.
For George (Chris Klein), a lawyer who just made partner, the timing isn’t good. He has plans for him and his wife (Ginnifer Goodwin), whose cancer is in remission, and is determined to avoid serving, asking his father to call in a favor from a senator, toying with self-mutilation and dragging a friend to a gay bar. Rob Malkani’s script doesn’t push George far enough, however: While his encounter at the watering hole does apply pressure to the military’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy, George doesn’t explore the option seriously.
George’s objection is also political, which brings him into conflict with cabbie Dixon (Jon Bernthal), who is proud to defend and spread freedom throughout the world. Their opposing viewpoints come to blows at a cocktail party of George’s white-collar friends. Dixon’s impending departure, however, complicates a budding romantic relationship.
Experiencing the most interesting personal journey is novelist Aaron (Elijah Wood), whose first reaction upon opening his call to service is to vomit. Upon the advice of his crossword-solving shrink (Ally Sheedy), he composes a bucket list of the top 10 things to do before he ships out, transforming from a nebbish innocent into a skinheaded, tattooed badass.
On the morning they are to report to Penn Station, George, Dixon and Aaron each makes a surprising decision.
It’s not clearly how likely the scenario of a contemporary draft is, but through portraits of these three men, Cole uses the possibility to explore themes of loyalty and duty, masculinity, class conflicts and a youth culture gone soft and spoiled, at times slipping into political rhetoric. There’s an opportunity lost, however, with the women. Not only is the possibility of a female draft not even raised, but distaff roles are limited to the supportive, “I’ll wait for you” variety.
Distributor: First Look
Cast: Elijah Wood, Chris Klein, Jon Bernthal, Ginnifer Goodwin, Elisabeth Moss, Ally Sheedy and Sofia Vassilieva
Director: Bryan Gunnar Cole
Screenwriter: Rob Malkani
Producer: Anthony Moody
Rating: R for language, sexual content, some violence and drug use
Running time: 93 min.
Release date: January 18, 2008 NY/Sea