In ZeroZeroZero, a crime series that just landed on Amazon Prime Video, an uneasy and unholy alliance is formed between businessmen, drug cartels, and rogue soldiers. As expected, creator Stefano Sollima doesn’t pull any punches this time around either. Its world is as cold and harsh as devastating as in any of his previous works like Suburra, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, or the two-season crime series, Romanzo Criminale. It’s a world where men and pigs get slaughtered with the same brutality.
Based on Robert Saviano’s novel of the same name, ZeroZeroZero sees both Saviano and Sollima returning to a subject they are much familiar with: organised crime. This time, however, Sollima, and his co-directors Janus Metz and Pablo Trapero, are painting on a much bigger canvas. We get two families involved in the crime business, one Italian and the other American. The lives of both parties change irrevocably after coming into contact with a rogue Mexican special forces unit. Everything revolves around a shipment of drugs.
But this is also a tale of fathers, sons, and daughters; of passing the baton; of generational conflicts; of revenge. The atmosphere is dreadful and oppressive, with doom always looming over the characters like the Sword of Damocles. So is the constant expectation of betrayal. One can sense the strong influence of Shakespeare and Mario Puzo in Saviano’s story, combined with a level of bloodshed that would delight Cormac McCarthy.
Andrea Riseborough and Dane DeHaan play siblings Emma Lynwood and Chris Lyndwood, the children of a powerful shipping magnate, Edward Lynwood (Gabriel Byrne). The family is in business with a Mexican drug cartel. And on the other side is an ageing crime family patriarch Don Minu (Adriano Chiaramida) and his grandson Stefano (Giuseppe De Domenico).
The latter makes it clear early on that he is not on good terms with the old man. There is a long story behind it, revealed in one of the later episodes. And then there is Manuel Contreras (Harold Torres), an ambitious and ruthless Mexican soldier who is slowly straying to a different path because “God’s voice” is guiding him. It’s a path littered with corpses — or, in his eyes, ‘instruments of God’.
Manuel is easily the series’ most compelling and complex character. When he begins forming his own army, we get the feeling that some major sh*t is about to go down. We eagerly look forward to it, no matter how dark things are going to get, thanks to the casting of a perceptive actor like Torres. There is an unpredictability to Manuel not seen in the other characters. His personality kept reminding me of Benicio Del Toro’s character from the Sicario films.
I imagine he was someone like Manuel in his younger days. Manuel is unapologetically ruthless, but there are rare moments of vulnerability that we don’t see coming. It’s what makes him so fascinating, and it’s his presence that creates a Butterfly Effect. When ZeroZeroZero is not occupied with shootouts and car chases, it finds time for much introspection and dialogue. There were times when I felt things were being prolonged more than necessary, like in the fifth episode where Emma and Chris are trapped in a Middle Eastern desert with terrorists fighting an ugly war.
It’s sort of a Lawrence of Arabia-style adventure. But despite its slow pace, it has its reasons for existing. It’s also where we discover the medical condition that’s been bothering Chris for a while — something he inherited from his late mother. In this regard, Sollima’s style is slightly evocative of Denis Villeneuve. The series is at its strongest when it sticks with Manuel and the Italian characters. I didn’t find Emma and Chris to be compelling characters.
Their drama feels forced at times. And DeHaan, in particular, has nothing new to offer. I wonder why he is being offered characters, which seem like a rehash of what he did in Chronicle or A Cure for Wellness. He has been sporting the same tormented expression in every film, which gets tiresome after a certain point.
Having said that, the strengths of ZeroZeroZero outweigh the flaws. It requires a tremendous amount of patience. Anyone looking for the same pace of Narcos should look elsewhere. Given how things ended in the finale, I expect another season. But it works well as a standalone season too.
Creators: Stefano Sollima, Leonardo Fasoli, Mauricio Katz
Cast: Harold Torres, Andrea Riseborough, Dane DeHaan, Adriano Chiaramida, Giuseppe De Domenico
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video