Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Clint Eastwood’s moody, evocative 2003 masterpiece merged a compelling whodunit with stunning drama about the erosion of a neighborhood and its people.
In an Oscar-winning performance as a man with whom we can sympathize but also feel sketchy about, Sean Penn is Jimmy, an ex-convict running a corner grocery store. Sean (Kevin Bacon) is a Boston homicide detective separated from his wife. And Dave (Tim Robbins) hulks his shrug-shouldered frame around the neighborhood every day — haunted by his abduction and abuse as a child.
These estranged friends are thrown back together when Jimmy’s eldest daughter, Katie, is murdered. On that same night, Dave stumbles in at 3 a.m., covered with someone else’s blood, and Sean and his partner (Laurence Fishburne) investigate in what becomes a long nightmare of rigorous police procedure. (One of the Zeroes’ finest scenes is an interrogation with Fishburne, Robbins and Bacon that’s an acting master class.)
Yet no one is better than Robbins, who also won an Oscar. Doddering in a daze, Dave implodes with rage over the psychological roots of his problems. Forever robbed of his childhood and, thus, his life, Robbins amazes as a man who’s lived the façade he thinks he must while knowing his emotional emptiness in full.
While the particulars of the mystery fascinated, the shame, awkwardness, fears and cosmic fate compelled. Eastwood’s directorial omniscience rewarded, and never restricted this tough, lean, relentless film, which left its specifics open-ended, but not the frightening finality that the vicious cycle would continue.