Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Zero Zero Zero

When I see the name Stefano Sollima attached to something now, a film or a television series, I know I'm going to watch it.  Though I actually have yet to see (though this will soon change) his 22 part Romanzo criminale (2006-2008), about criminal and political doings in 1970's Italy, the decade there of the "Years of Lead"  -- so named because of the violence that saturated the country then -- I loved his gangster film Suburra (2015) and his second epic gangster series Gomorrah, which has completed four seasons now. While Sicario: Day of the Soldado caught some flak for various aspects, I liked its excitement and downright nastiness, its depiction of internecine warfare, something Sollima really excels at.  So I was excited to find he has a new series just released, called Zero Zero Zero, and with time on my hands like most everyone else, I watched it over a few nights.  It's on Amazon Prime. 

Sollima's gangster stuff takes place in Italy and Sicario 2, which has to do with drug cartels, takes place mainly in Mexico.  Zero Zero Zero combines both Italian gangsters and Mexican cartels as well as a father, daughter and son from the US who run a shipping company and serve as the transporters of a huge shipment of cocaine supposed to go from Mexico to Calabria, Italy.

Adapted from the book by Italian writer Robert Saviano, co-created by Sollima, Zero Zero Zero doesn't cover territory we've never seen before.  But it covers what it does with a great level of detail and with commanding skill.  There are three ongoing plot threads: one in Mexico involving an elite group of Mexican soldiers who make a move in Monterrery to take over the drug trade, one in Calabria where there is conflict between and within Italian families for control of the drug trade, and the one involving the Lynwood family, the shippers.  We get a story that essentially follows one shipment of cocaine from its release in Mexico to its intended final location in Italy and all the jockeying for power, betrayals, maneuvering, and perilous detours that happen around this shipment.  The series had a huge budget, apparently, and has a very large cast, and looks absolutely great.  The first couple of episodes are directed by Sollima, the others by Janus Metz, who is Danish, and Pablo Trapero, an Argentinian filmmaker.  None of them shy away from violence and, what I especially love, none of them soften things. Zero Zero Zero is an example of a type of drama that, when well done, I love.  You follow a number of characters who have their loves and attachments -- they are human -- but who are not primarily what you might call likable.  They are interesting and compelling more than likable, and the story stays true to what they would do in their given situations, no matter what those actions are.  This has been true in every Stefano Sollima work I've seen so far.  He shows you behavior and emotions and people in serious conflict, doing tender things, horrible things, but he never ever moralizes.

Zero Zero Zero isn't perfect.  Every episode has a structuring device that is a little bit mannered; the episode begins a certain way and carries forward, then at a particular point, goes into slow motion and segues backward to show you what led up to what you've been watching.  It's a device that's arbitrary, to be honest, but it didn't take away from my overall pleasure.

Topnotch direction, excellent pacing, strong acting all around, with a cast that includes Andrea Riseborough, Dane DeHaan, Gabriel Byrne (in a small role) and a stone-cold and truly chilling Harold Torres, who plays the head of the Mexican soldiers that makes its move in the drug trade in Monterrey.  Riseborough and DeHaan play brother and sister, and she is the stronger of the two, the one running the shipping business responsible for the movement of the cocaine.  Did I say the Harold Torres character is cold; well, Riseborough's, without being evil, has ice water running through her veins as she does her work in a world dominated by some pretty nasty men.

One other thing: It's rare to see places like Dakar, Senegal or modern-day Casablanca in western productions, and Zero Zero Zero goes to these places with the same assurance and calm it depicts more familiar locales like Mexico and Italy.  In other words, it doesn't show us these places through "the exotic eye".  Beauty, corruption, violence, dealmaking -- they exist everywhere, behavior is consistent.  What differs from place to place is the motivation behind that behavior. 

I should say, too, that the whole production is enhanced very much by the musical score, kind of in the way Michael Mann films have such rich scores.  For Zero Zero Zero, it's by Mogwai, and it adds plenty, episode to episode, to the mood and tension.

Next up for Stefano Sollima, is an adaptation of a Tom Clancy book, Without Remorse, to star Michael B. Jordan.  The script is by Taylor Sheridan.  I've never read or had the slightest interest in reading Clancy's novels, nor have I even seen any of the other films made from his books (or the current Jack Ryan series on Amazon), but this one I expect I will watch. 

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