Review by Sean Boelman
Abel Ferrara has a very eclectic filmography, with an almost auteur-like output blending the intelligence of art house fare with the trashiness of genre flicks. His newest movie, Zeros and Ones, is just as angry and confusing as one would expect, but there are enough interesting things going on here to make it worthwhile.
The film follows an American soldier who fights an unknown terrorist threat after the Vatican is blown up. And while this may sound like a relatively straightforward espionage thriller on paper, it is anything but. Like so much of Ferrara’s work, trying to follow what is happening in the story in a literal sense is futile, and the audience is better off going along for the emotional ride.
Ferrara builds an excellent atmosphere for the movie, taking advantage of the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic (although within the world of the film, the lockdown is caused by the fictional war of the plot) to allow these characters to wander through the streets of Rome, and more metaphorically, the consciousness of society.
And if audiences are looking for a clear answer as to what the movie is about, they clearly shouldn’t be watching the new Abel Ferrara film. There are messages about capitalism, the government, and of course Ferrara’s favorite: religion. As always, most of the exploration of the themes in the movie is through not-so-subtle dialogue packed with symbolism and metaphors.
Ferrara should definitely be praised for doing something unique and different with the war film. This is by no means jingoistic, which should not be surprising given the movie’s politics, nor is it the standard costs of war ethical study. Ferrara isn’t afraid to absolutely rip apart these well-established institutions.
Ethan Hawke has to play a double role in the film, and he is such a talented actor that he mostly manages to pull it off. It’s pretty clear at times that Hawke doesn’t completely understand what he’s saying — but to be fair, it’s entirely possible that Ferrara didn’t completely understand what he was writing.
Ferrara’s style is definitely fit for the COVID-19 pandemic, as the trance-like state in which so many of his narratives exist is only compounded by empty streets and forcibly awkward blocking. That said, some of the more technically-savvy portions of the narrative aren’t executed as well and have some issues with cheapness.
Zeros and Ones is closer to the type of movie that should play in art-houses, not be released straight-to-VOD like a B-movie actioner. It’s weird and not always satisfying, but very much the work of Abel Ferrara.
Zeros and Ones hits theaters and VOD on November 19.