Director: Abel Ferrara
Writer: Abel Ferrara
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Cristina Chiriac, Phil Neilson, Valerio Mastandrea, Dounia Sichov, Korlan Madi, Mahmut Sifa Erkaya, Anna Ferrara
Abel Ferrara’s latest film, Zeros and Ones, is a direct response to the pandemic that we’ve all been living through. It’s a strange, messy and dreamlike thriller. At times it hypnotic, but it’s also very alienating to watch. Ethan Hawke stars as both soldier J.J and his revolutionary brother Justin. J.J. is stationed in Rome to try and stop a terrorist attack, while his brother is being held captive in America. Justin may hold information that could stop the attack but isn’t co-operating.
On the surface it feels like Zeros and Ones is going to be a straightforward action/thriller. It’s not. Instead, you follow J.J around as he goes about Rome just kind of doing things. Some of it feels important, other parts don’t. It’s very loosely structured and kind of meanders through its runtime. It’s only around one hour and twenty minutes but seems to suck out a good portion of your day anyway.
The film is bookended with two clips showing Ethan Hawke, out of character, talking directly to us as the audience. In the opening he explains why he wanted to work with Ferrara, and how this is a response to the pandemic. Not that you really need that explaining, it starts with J.J. walking through an almost completely abandoned train station and then vacant streets only to be greeted by that all too familiar skype call when he gets home. There are cleaners sterilising everything, people wearing masks in every shot. It’s dark and dreary. You know what this film is about straight away, and Ferrara does a good job at creating the hopelessness that we’ve all been feeling. It’s scenes like this, where the film really is interesting and almost gets you hooked, but it’s never truly captivating.
The film then ends with another clip of Hawke talking to us, as if he was watching the film alongside you and tries to explain what it’s all about, how two people can see the world completely differently and both be right. It’s not a good sign if the film needs to break the fourth wall to explain itself, especially when it’s so short.
Hawke is great in both roles, as the more subdued J.J. and the erratic Justin. He’s intense in both roles. The score also has some great moments, especially with the industrial piece over J.J. walking through the empty streets at the starts. it’s just a shame the script isn’t great. There’s no sense of real tension, even when things go bad. It just kind of happens and you’re detached completely from what’s happening on screen.
Ferrara has created, with Zeros and Ones, an often incoherent and very strange story that’s nothing like you’ve ever seen before. It may kind of feel like it sums up the last couple of years, but at the same time it doesn’t really leave an impact and no clip of Ethan Hawke trying to explain the film is going to change that.
Signature Entertainment presents Zeros and Ones on Digital Platforms 7th March & DVD 4th April
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