ZeroZeroZero is what we hope for in a series based on a very topical book about narcotics, money laundering, and bad guys. It sustains enormous tension across all eight episodes; it’s gritty and hyper-realistic, but also enormously lyrical and poetic in all the right spots; it uses an unexpected and novel narrative form to tell its complicated story, with three venues across the globe and a massive stable of characters causing mayhem in those venues. Visually packed with stunning scenery and sets, this is story-telling that demands something from its viewers–but meeting that challenge is a joy.
And Gabriel is cast so perfectly in this series and he accomplishes so much in the time he is given that I am jumping up and down! He is unforgettable. His portrayal is magnetic and compelling, recalling the intense work he did in Wah-Wah and the vocal timbre and accent he used in End of Days. But there are only hints of these past roles. Edward Lynwood is unique in the Byrnean pantheon.
I refuse to spoil it for you, so I will not say much more except he does some fantastic work here, including (I think) his own stunts. You must see this series. Try hard, okay?
On safer, non-spoilery ground, I wanted to share two of the coolest Gabriel-related things I noticed in the series.
First, Gabriel is reunited with Dane DeHaan, who plays his son in ZeroZeroZero. Fans of In Treatment (that is everyone reading this, yes!?) will remember Dane in Season 3 of that HBO series, in which he played Paul’s patient, Jesse. Paul and Jesse fist-bumped on occasion, especially when they were both in a good mood, which was not often, but still. And guess what? In ZeroZeroZero, father and son fist-bump, too. Is that cool? I think that is cool.
The Fist Bump
Second, another occasion for the delicious shiver of Byrne déja vu.
In 1990, French actor Tchéky Karyo played the role of the handler, Bob, in Luc Besson’s neo-noir thriller La Femme Nikita, which also starred Anne Parillaud as Nikita. I saw it in the theater and loved it, subtitles and all.
Flash forward three years and the film is remade in America as Point of No Return, starring Gabriel Byrne as, you guessed it, the handler, Bob, and Bridget Fonda as Nikita. Remakes like this were the thing back then–it is not quite as good, but it is still lots of fun and worth watching. Also, Gabriel Byrne. Right? And also Nina Simone. Right.
This time travel thing is hard on the sensibilities, but here we go. Now flash forward almost 30 years, to 2020, and we have the Two Bobs in the same series and on the same screen together. I told you. It’s déja vu all over again.
I would also observe that Gabriel is, once again, roaming around a rather imposing, slightly sinister ship that is taking on a shipment of cocaine, but I’ll leave those little chills of recognition for you to ponder…
And I know I would not particularly appreciate having pictures of myself from the present and from thirty years ago placed side by side, so let’s move on to the next topic, shall we? Sorry, guys.
Tchéky has at least two new films and a series happening now, so check those out, too.
The Two Bobs
The New York Times has a very good in-depth review of ZeroZeroZero, written by Mike Hale. Chances are high that it will be hiding behind a pay wall, so here is a good chunk of it for you:
“Zerozerozero” is, like the drug deal it chronicles, an international production, bringing Amazon together with the European networks Sky and Canal Plus. (The title isn’t explained, but presumably refers to the very large sums of money exchanged via banking apps or duffel bags.)
And it reflects its mixed origins in a literal way. “Zerozerozero” is three shows in one: an Italian mafia saga with rocky Calabrian hillsides and generational omertà; a Mexican narco thriller with lavish cartel violence; and, more improbably, an indie-movie-style American family drama and character study. The series toggles among the three stories, which are intimately connected but for the most part told separately, with occasional meetings that are invariably bad news for the characters involved.
The common thread, purchased in Mexico and transported to Italy by an American broker, is a shipping container of jalapeño tins that actually hold cocaine. They’re a familiar but effective narrative and visual device, weary but determined travelers whose progress we root for as they’re hoisted on and off ships and trucked across deserts and mountains.
They’re also mute witness to the travails of their Mexican sellers, Italian buyers and American expediters. In Monterrey a special-forces sergeant (Harold Torres) takes his team of anti-cartel soldiers on a ruthless and bloody venture into the private sector while keeping up his attendance at evangelical church services. In Calabria an aging don (Adriano Chiaramida) hides out in underground bunkers and abandoned farmhouses while dealing with his rebellious grandson (Giuseppe de Domenico).
Caught between, in New Orleans, a father, daughter and son (Gabriel Byrne, Andrea Riseborough and Dane DeHaan) struggle to keep the family shipping brokerage afloat, counting on the tens of millions they stand to make from transporting those jalapeño tins.
And, again improbably, the American story line is the strength of “Zerozerozero” — when it’s onscreen, there’s more to watch than a coolly efficient international crime thriller. Perhaps because they couldn’t fall back as easily on mafia or narco clichés, Sollima and his collaborators came up with a framework for the American family — domineering father, children struggling to prove themselves in the business, sister fiercely protective of brother with degenerative disease — that’s usefully melodramatic and gives Riseborough and DeHaan room to portray a real and subtly moving relationship.