Cocaine is one hell of a drug. It’s also one hell of a business, and as Amazon’s violent new drug drama ZeroZeroZero dramatizes, it “keeps the world’s economy afloat.” This gritty international tale is clearly Amazon’s answer to Netflix’s Narcos, albeit a temporary one, given that it’s billed as a limited series. The streamer would be wise to take a page out of its competitor’s playbook and pivot to the equivalent of Narcos: Mexico, because these eight episodes would be a promising start for an ongoing franchise.
ZeroZeroZero is based on the book by Gomorrah author Roberto Saviano, and bounces between Italy, Mexico and New Orleans as we follow a large shipment of cocaine. Dane DeHaan and Andrea Riseborough star as Chris and Emma Lynwood, the adult children of Edward Lynwood (Gabriel Byrne), a well respected middle man who brokers drug deals between sellers and buyers.
When the Lynwood family business and its assets are threatened, the siblings find themselves with new responsibilities, including nurturing an all-important relationship with Don Minu (Adriano Chiaramida), who leads a criminal syndicate in Italy from a bunker tucked away in the mountains of Calabria. With Don Minu in hiding, his grandson Stefano (Giuseppe De Domenico) sees an opportunity to seize control. Meanwhile, in Mexico, Special Forces leader Manuel Contreras (Harold Torres) tires of taking orders, and decides to make his own play for power, with a growing army behind him.
Right off the bat, it’s my duty to warn you that this show is exceptionally violent. It’s the kind of show where someone gets shot in the head, and then two people pick up the body, and you can see the blood and brains falling out of the wound. And yet, the direction is basically flawless, whether it’s Stefano Sollima (Sicario: Day of the Soldado), Janus Metz (True Detective) or Pablo Trapero (The Clan) behind the camera, as they all do fantastic work. I don’t think ZeroZeroZero has the same emotional depth as Narcos, but from a visual standpoint, I’ll give it the edge.
As far as the performances go, DeHaan, Riseborough and Byrne are all solid, and though they’re the only recognizable actors in the cast, that actually works in the show’s favor. In fact, the series standout is Torres, who gives a breakout performance as Contreras. Though his moral compass has been compromised, Contreras represents the heart and soul of the series for me, as well as its most three-dimensional character.
Torres rises to the occasion here, by equal turns terrifying and sensitive, and I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Even though Contreras is one of the show’s most cold-blooded characters, Torres imbues him with a certain vulnerability that helps us see him as more than just a monster. His eyes burn with intensity, though he rarely lets his guard down enough to show emotion in front of his men. His humanity is seen in brief glimpses, particularly in his dealings with the pregnant wife of a fallen comrade. Beyond that, he shows no mercy.
If there’s anything holding this series back in the slightest, it’s the scenes with the Lynwood siblings, as the brokers simply aren’t as interesting in this world as the buyers or sellers. The shipment of cocaine that they are overseeing is obviously a big deal for them, but the stakes for them never felt like life or death to me in the way that they do when the series moves to Mexico or Italy. The later episodes try to beef up Chris’ character by putting more emphasis on the Huntington’s disease that he knows will eventually kill him, and while that does give DeHaan a bit more to play as an actor, it still doesn’t make Chris especially interesting. He’ll always be seen as the runt of the litter, eager to prove himself to his father, who would prefer to keep him away from the family business, which Chris doesn’t always have the stomach for — certainly not like his sister, who has ice running through her veins that helps her navigate her way in this cutthroat world. Again, Riseborough and DeHaan are both good, but their characters just didn’t feel as fresh as others. I feel like I’ve seen their sibling dynamic before.
The secret ingredient in this cauldron of chaos is the original score by Mogwai. I can’t understate how crucial Mogwai’s music is to the success of this show. They have contributed some awesome instrumental tracks to plenty of Hollywood movies, from Michael Mann‘s Miami Vice to the Steve Carell–Timothee Chalamet drama Beautiful Boy, but never before has their instrumentation served as the backbone of a major TV series, and it’s quite effective in communicating the intensity of ZeroZeroZero. Even the credits feel epic as the main theme builds to a crescendo before our journey continues.
ZeroZeroZero is a series about power, the lengths we’ll go to get it, and what we’re willing to do to keep it. Don Minu and Manuel each grapple with this, though sometimes it’s the middle man left holding the bag to suffer the greatest consequences. The final minute of the series is stunning. The camera follows a single cast member out of mansion littered with dead bodies. and that character has to act completely unfazed, whether or not they actually are. Those dead people are just the cost of doing business Everyone has their price. The question you have to ask yourself is, ‘what’s yours?’
ZeroZeroZero is now streaming on Amazon Prime.