Cinema based on Organised Crime is like Poetry. Unlawful but Beautiful. The narrative of ZeroZeroZero runs like a slow affecting drug, slowly peeping into the veins and then taking over. The series sends you to the nostalgia of all those great films that were about Italian crime and the Mafia. However, ZeroZeroZero is realistic with more humanly flawed protagonists.
Created by Stefano Sollima, Leonardo Fasoli, and Mauricio Katz, ZeroZeroZero is based on the book of the same name and concludes in 8 episodes of 1 hour each (approx). It screens three main countries, Italy, Mexico, and the Middle East. Due to its diverse or wide scene locations, the series includes a variety of languages, mainly English, Italian and Spanish. Anyone who loves the sound of a multi-linguistic narrative should purposely watch it.
The screen opens with a man, Edward Lynwood (Gabriel Byrne) lying down, holed with bullets. The series, without any “super”, goes back in time, and portrays Don Damiano “Minu” (Adriano Chiaramida), a fading boss of the ‘Ndrangheta organisation. Don Minu walks out of his concrete underground den, while a voiceover plays on the screen that suggests, “you are no longer useful when you’ve got nothing to give.”
When Don Minu comes out, he arranges a meeting with other members of the ‘Ndrangheta and tells them that he has arranged a shipment of 5000 kilos of drug cocaine from Mexico to feed the families of the organisation and keep people loyal to his control, which is fading due to numerous reasons.
The origin of the shipment is Mexico, where the drug is packed in a pickle box. However, at the last moment, the pickle factory is compromised and special forces chase the man, running it. In the midst of a gunfight, a young girl is shot. It is here, Manuel Contreras (Harold Torres), the most striking character of the series is introduced. Manuel takes the dying girl in his arms and feels sorry for her. It is Manuel who makes another raid to a private meeting of Edward Lynwood, an American man who owns the shipping business and is authorized to ship the drugs to Italy. Edward is killed in the raid that night, which brings back the series to the first frame, where it started.
Now, it is the responsibility, Emma and Chris Lynwood (daughter and son of Edward) to deliver the drugs to Don Minu, or Minus’ legacy will perish. Though the obstacles in the journey are too many and hope too little.
The multi protagonist narrative encompasses three major lives, with different conflicts, yet connected by a single deal. Don Minu is old and circled by men, he can’t trust. Manuel is a snitch in the special forces who want to earn big and become great. Emma and Chris have to fulfil an impossible task and deliver the shipment from Mexico to Italy. When all the three meet their fate, the series concludes with a memorable ending.
Mild Spoilers Ahead
Buyer (Italian) – Mediator (American) – Seller (Mexican)
The story revolves around a drug shipment, but the multi-narrative covers the origin (Manuel – the Mexican), the delivery agent (Edward, Chris, Emma – the Americans), and the destination (Don Minu – the Italians). These are the key characters of the series, whose life is or will be affected by the shipment. Symbolically, the Americans play the role of a mediator (not suggesting anything, but that is what America does, bring you weapons and drugs). Mexico, still a developing country that has to rely on many other measures to feed its people. Where the cost of guns is cheap and lives, cheaper. And Italy, the place where organized crime is still a stronghold and thus, an epicenter of organized criminal activities in Europe. ZeroZeroZero doesn’t stop at this but also includes the militants of Al-Qaeda and shady African dealers of middle eastern countries. At large, the series widely covers every immoral element on the Earth. They just missed the white supremacists.
A Generation After
A common layer between Don Minu and Edward is that they are both about to be succeeded by their grandson and son/daughter respectively. The important question in each one’s mind is, will the generation after them, will be able to handle the risky business of drug dealing? Don Minu has made some really severe and cold-hearted decisions in his Mafia Life to build respect and legacy, but his grandson is scheming to kill him because he is influenced by emotions rather than business. For Don Minu, it is “Business First.”
In the case of Edward, his son Chris suffers from Huntington’s disease, just like his late mother. Edward doesn’t want Chris to ever enter the business, while Emma (Andrea Riseborough) is already handling most of it. After the sudden shootout of Edward, Emma leads Chris into the business, because they can’t trust anyone now. Emma and Chris are forced into a situation where they are not sure of the outcome but walk in a blackout tunnel, hoping for a better exit. Emma’s character goes through several changes but in the end, she stands still, left with nothing but money.
Thus, the lives of the two main protagonists are affected by the actions of their future generations.
Variety of Obstacles
The drug shipment has to cover half of the map, from Mexico to Italy. It isn’t an easy ride, not when the captain of the ship abandons the ship in the middle of nowhere. When the shipment leaves Mexico with Chris on board, he quickly figures out that there are people, who want to drown the ship. Thus, the obstacles faced by the shipment are too many. It travels by water, land and desert before it can finally reach the destination. These obstacles are not just external, but prominently internal. External conflicts include militants, government, mafias, terrorists, special forces, and outlaws (that’s the diversity, exactly). While the internal ones are struggles of Chris suffering from mental diseases and spending his days on heavy doses of addictive medicines. The most impracticable man is assigned the job, but it is the gap between the possible and the impossible, that makes the ride entertaining. ZeroZeroZero is a clear-cut example of “how to make things hard for the hero and make the journey worthwhile.”
The Narrative Structure – Explanation after the Explosion
Each episode of ZeroZeroZero is approached with a non-linear narrative element. This particular element is, often in the episode, a certain event happens on screen, which is explosive information for the audience. The narrative then (without super or titles) goes back in the time frame to suggest how the explosion happened. For example, Edward Lynwood is shot dead in the first frame of the first episode, but the narrative goes back in time, to explain how he died, by the end of the episode. Films and Television series have previously used this methodology but ZeroZeroZero keeps it consistent in each particular episode, and too, without any suggestion. The time frame and explosive information or character are different in each episode, hence, it is impossible to predict. In short, ZeroZeroZero requires your dedicated attention or you will miss the “bang.”
Major Spoilers Ahead
Manuel Contreras – Dream Character Arc of Every Screenwriter
I really hurried to this subheading because Harold Torres’ character of Manuel is something that could be studied for a screenwriting class. It has everything, confusion, emotion and devotion. Manuel is first introduced during the raid of the pickle factory, which leads to the sudden death of an innocent girl. Manuel takes the girl in his arms and shows signs of a vulnerable soldier.
To control his racing thoughts and dilemma, Manuel hears recordings of a Christian speaker that shows his devotion towards religion. Additionally, Manuel is the snitch in the force who works for the Leyra brothers, drug lord of Mexico. He informs his bosses before a raid happens. However, sometimes it is unavoidable which leads to death. Manuel fears god but wants to earn big money, that is why he became an informer. Whenever I never miss a chance to earn. Manuel is ambitious, he wants money and respect and love and everything else. He doesn’t want to become God, but he aspires to become a Lord.
Manuel is the only protagonist in the whole series, who doesn’t belong to an already established system or legacy. He is a low lying rat who makes it big towards the hierarchy through power and bloodshed. He can be looked upon as Macbeth.
When Manuel first visits the Leyra brothers, he sits in fear on the large sofa. His posture indicates like he is suppressed with power, and wants to revolt against it. He wants to fly and own the kingdom, thus becoming a lord himself.
At the end, when Emma Lynwood returns from Italy to Mexico, to transfer the money to the drug lords, she finds Manuel with his small army, already taking over the charge. He tells Emma that he is the new lord here and she will have to deal with him now. When Emma leaves, Manuel sits on the same sofa, spreading his wings, like the eagle who is now the master of the kingdom.
It is the same Manuel who showed signs of sympathy and vulnerability in the beginning. Now, he doesn’t even think twice, before pulling the trigger. Hence, suggesting that power brings hostility. Power means controlling people, leading them to a fate, to have an extended family, like Don Minu. but in the process, one loses the affection from his own family. Don Minu kills his own son of treason, Manuel has to shoot his best friend to label him as the snitch and avoid suspicion. Power demands the sacrifice of one’s own close ones. The one who is willing enough to do it will see their fate.
Manuel in the end loses all love but gains all power. He is the first Don Minu of his line, who now will have to see whether his upcoming generation will be able to make the same sacrifice or he will have to spend his epilogue in a concrete den-like Don Minu.
A good series gives entertainment, but a great series stays with you forever or much longer. ZeroZeroZero does justice to the latter part. It is furnished with a brilliant screenplay, marvelous performance, and more importantly, an attention-grabbing narrative. With no loose ends and a visually stunning end, ZeroZeroZero is my favorite series of the year and thus I have written so much. However, remove Manuel, a Pablo-Escobar figure from the series, and it will lose a major value. Any actor or screenwriter, wishing to learn or polish their art with a reference of a beautifully carved character arc should really check out this series. It is going to stick with you for a long.
ZeroZeroZero (Season 1) is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
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