Charles Krauthammer

And that is it. Indeed, that scene marks the only appearance of women in the entire two hours of the film, setting a new outdoor record for sexual austerity in an epic, a record previously held by ``Lawrence of Arabia.''

The austerity works as film, as does the fidelity to detail. My only worry is that it won't sell to the kids who flock to see ``Pirates of the Caribbean,'' who expect sex and swashbuckling between their battle scenes, and whose patronage is needed for the movie to recover its $135 million cost.

It is perhaps odd to worry about a film's box office, but when a film is as splendid as this one, you want it to succeed. Perhaps it will be helped in the U.S. by its timing. We are at war, and this is a film not just about the conduct of war, but about virtue in war. Its depiction of the more ancient notions of duty, honor, patriotism and devotion is reminiscent of what we glimpsed during live coverage of the dash to Baghdad back in April, but is now slipping from memory.

The film was first planned a decade ago, long before Sept. 11, long before Afghanistan, long before Iraq. But it arrives at a time of war. And combat on the high seas -- ships under unified command meeting in duelistic engagement in open waters -- represents a distilled essence of warfare that, in the hands of a morally serious man like Weir, is deeply clarifying.

Even better is the fact that the hero in his little British frigate is up against a larger, more powerful French warship. That allows American audiences the particular satisfaction of seeing Anglo-Saxon cannonballs puncturing the Tricolor. My favorite part was Aubrey rallying the troops with a Henry V, St. Crispin's Day speech featuring: ``Do you want your children growing up and singing the Marseillaise?'' It was met by a chorus of deafening ``Noes.'' Maybe they should have put that in the trailer too.

Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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