Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
An obvious plot sure seemed destined to doom director Alejandro González Iñárritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga to a sophomore jinx after the bravura breakthrough of 2000’s Amores Perros (later on this list).
However, great endings can elevate good movies to elemental classic status, and the duo did just that in the final minutes of 2003’s 21 Grams — a thematic knockout of epic proportions with strange, poetic, positive and uplifting answers to its many questions.
The less you know about 21 Grams going in, the better. But, as in Amores Perros, an accident becomes a connective thread for disparate characters. Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and Naomi Watts all are at their apexes — an intensely hard-earned compliment considering previous powerhouse performances.
Penn’s stunning, nuanced performance was sad, sexy, charming and elegantly emotional — even better than in Mystic River, for which he won that year’s Best Actor Oscar. Del Toro’s spiritual crisis gripped with its revelations of tenderness and vulnerability beneath his grimy, gruff exterior. Watts brilliantly alternated chilly introversion and love found at the perfect moment.
Explosive moments include a confrontation between Penn and his wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) about the sham their marriage has become, a furious discussion of religion to debate the difference between accidents and divine providence and Watts’ flash- and frill-free descent into heartbreaking drug abuse.
In a film filled with loss — of love, life, stability, fathers, mothers, daughters, faith, trust and self-esteem — the conclusion briefly, crucially balanced the books.