February does seem like the perfect time to sit back on a comfortable sofa, drink something hot and chocolate-y, and watch desperate (but still appealing) people crime (yes, it’s a verb now. Haven’t you heard?) on a global scale–a whirlwind tour of exotic (and not-so-exotic) places, with a thrumming and unforgettable score as backdrop. That’s ZeroZeroZero. Buckle up. And don’t forget the first aid kit.
The Guardian offers one of the best non-spoilery descriptions of this series I have seen so far, although I disagree pretty intensely with the reviewer’s pronouncement that there is no one in this story that we care about. There are several characters that I came to care about intensely. The cynical tone of the story makes it difficult, it’s true, but empathy is still pretty easily achieved when you see the danger and feel the fear and experience the adrenaline that occurs when ordinary people do extraordinary things. Still, the synopsis below is outstanding! wink
ZeroZeroZero review – Gomorrah writer offers a bleak cartel saga
This drug trafficking drama based on the work of Roberto Saviano is a slick affair, but a grim message – and a nihilistic streak – are never far from the surface
It is part mafia saga, part crime thriller and part family drama. In the Calabrian mountains, Don Minu La Piana (Adriano Chiaramida), the teetering head of the organised crime syndicate the ’Ndrangheta, emerges from a bunker to gather potential buyers and organise a spectacular deal that – if successful – will restore his standing among them all. By the end of the first episode, it is clear that things are not going to go smoothly and that most of what you would expect from a mafia saga will come into play, from treacherous relatives to hungry, undiscerning pigs.
Meanwhile, in Monterrey, Mexico, the cartel amasses the goods for sale, while Manuel Contreras (Harold Torres), a special forces sergeant and devout Catholic, decides that the best way to serve God is to put together a rogue unit and go to war against local corruption, however many bodies are eviscerated in the process.
In the US, the Lynwoods – patriarch Edward, chip-off-the-old-block daughter Emma and sheltered son Chris (Gabriel Byrne, Andrea Riseborough and Dane DeHaan respectively), who is beginning to show signs of the Huntingdon’s disease that killed his mother – own a shipping firm that depends on the huge shipment to cure their financial woes and keep the family business – uh – afloat. They are $31m in the hole as they wait for the drugs to start moving out of Mexico and the first payment to arrive. It is like a nightmarish house-buying experience.
ZeroZeroZero: Gabriel Byrne stars in a drama so dark you can’t look away
Crossing the Netflix series Narcos with the Sicily scenes from Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather is such a whizz-bang idea it’s astonishing nobody has thought of it sooner. ZeroZeroZero (Sky Atlantic, Thursday, 9pm) understands what a fantastic premise this is and goes about splicing these two archetypes of the mobster genre – Latin American narcowars and rustic Mafia melodrama – with a gusto that occasionally strays into gleeful.
But then it throws in a third element: a Succession-without-the-laughs family drama with Gabriel Byrne as a corrupt New Orleans freight magnate. Byrne is great, too, channeling some of the desperate swagger of his character from The Usual Suspects.
Still, that’s a lot of balls in the air. And a lot of bullets flying about. Yet ZeroZeroZero – adapted from the 2013 book by the Gomorrah author, Roberto Saviano, and named after the “purest cocaine on the market” – makes it work.
That’s partly because of a dazzling lack of sentimentality. People are gunned down, slashed across the throat and fed to the pigs. One disturbing early scene features a stricken child caught in crossfire.
What this makes immediately clear is that ZeroZeroZero has no intention of glamorising the drug traffickers . . .
ZeroZeroZero review: This dark cocaine opera is brilliant, bleak escapism for long February nights
At its best, ZeroZeroZero is three polished dramas rolled into one. The Calabrian mafia – the ’Ndrangheta – are engaged in a succession tussle. To shore up his position with the local commanders, Don Minu (Adriano Chiaramida) orders five tons of cocaine, but his grandson Stefano (Giuseppe De Domenico) sees an opportunity to overthrow the old man. The turbulence has knock-on effects for the suppliers in Mexico, who are already embroiled in a classic narco plot that revolves around Manuel Contreras (Harold Torres) as a turncoat commando.
Caught between them is the American Lynwood family, who use their international shipping business to move the gear between continents. Patriarch Edward (Gabriel Byrne) is grooming his daughter Emma (Andrea Riseborough) to take over the company, believing his son Chris (Dane DeHaan), who has Huntingdon’s disease, to be unfit. A little of The Godfather, a splash of Sicario, a dash of Succession: a tasty recipe . . .
On the whole, the three stories are treated as discrete units, only combining for the odd disastrous encounter, which means the web of relations between the characters is not as involved as it would be if they were all in one place. Byrne, Riseborough and DeHaan do sterling work in making Lynwoods seem like a realistic family unit, considering they are the linchpins of a global drug smuggling route. It’s a credit to the writing and performances that ZeroZeroZero doesn’t collapse under its zeal for bombast. Instead, this is a dark, exuberant cocaine opera, bleak escapism for long February nights.
Watch the main credits for the series and listen to the Mogwai score. The tone is truly set by this introduction:
The concept and details (so many discarded mobile phones) feel familiar (Traffic, Narcos), but the storytelling is engagingly tricksy, the often-bloody action terrifically staged (there is a remarkable assault on a freighter carrying coke in jalapeno tins), the cinematography stunning (witness an indelible image of dead bodies being helicoptered out to sea), and a score by Mogwai adds an air of dreamy reflection unusual in the genre. In a strong cast, Torres is charismatic, while DeHaan registers as the show’s most sympathetic character and de facto hero, but it’s Riseborough who is the standout, finding engaging human qualities in a potentially one-note headstrong character. Is she ever bad in anything? ZeroZeroZero is a sprawling, hardly original drug drama enlivened by exciting action, bravura film-making and tangible atmosphere. And Andrea Riseborough shines as a queen bee in waiting.