ZeroZeroZero review: This dark cocaine opera is brilliant, bleak escapism for long February nights

Bold adaptation starring Dane DeHaan contains a little of The Godfather, a splash of Sicario and a dash of Succession: a tasty recipe

Ed Cumming
Thursday 04 February 2021 22:00 GMT
ZeroZeroZero trailer

The brash, expensive, enormous eight-part cocaine crime drama ZeroZeroZero (Sky Atlantic) arrives on British screens a year after it appeared in the US and Italy, and almost 18 months after its debut at the Venice film festival. It doesn’t hide its ambitions under a bushel. Based on Roberto Saviano’s novel of the same name, this is a series with grand pretensions. It explores the global drug trade by focusing on the suppliers in Mexico, the buyers in Italy, and the middlemen who operate out of New Orleans. Normally this business is a smooth multibillion-pound engine of hedonism, profit and death, but what happens when something goes wrong?

In the opening episode alone, there are more set pieces than in many blockbusters: I counted a mafia showdown in the woods, three glamorous locations, hundreds of extras, pigs eating a corpse, two abductions, two gun fights, a car chase, a torture scene, slow-motion bullet-casings, banknotes being burnt in an oil drum and a man praying to Jesus over the body of a dead schoolgirl. It’s about as subtle as an elephant loading a dishwasher.

Which isn’t to say it isn’t enjoyable. 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.

Each of the strands has different strengths, but there’s enough material in each to sustain a lesser series. The director, Stefano Sollima, previously worked on the excellent adaptation of Saviano’s novel Gomorrah. He creates a similar sense of kinetic energy here, using a cinematic visual aesthetic and a pulsing, Nine Inch Nails-esque soundtrack by Mogwai to connect the different locations, and freely showboating with the directorial flourishes.

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.

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