Zeros and Ones Review

The rise and rise of Abel Ferrara’s second coming has been tremendous. Tomasso and Siberia were revolutionary for the journey Ferrara has taken his career on. Ethan Hawke takes that place now in a fascinating piece, Zeros and Ones. With the pandemic at its peak, filmmaking had to adapt. Some did it better than others. Zeroes and Ones does it perfectly well, with Hawke at the forefront of this piece that relies on masks, video conferencing and distant cameras that rise above the skyline of Vatican City and Rome. It is experimentation with a style that few have had the chance to use just yet, and the results are fascinating, wild and feel like a new surge for Ferrara.

Actors champion filmmakers, and the trust put into Ferrara in these later, wavering moments of his career is reassuring. Willem Dafoe did well to guide him through the arthouse novelties of a beautiful-looking Siberia and now it is Ethan Hawke who aids Ferrara in a story of revolutionaries and the future of the Vatican. Ferrara’s direction often descends into handheld footage, slowed-down moments that can reflect on characters or narration. These are all necessary pauses to moments that need a bit of passion or thought. Hawke’s pieces are some of the best, with a delicate dissection of brothers JJ and Justin. A soldier and a revolutionary at odds with one another and played by the same man. It is a tough line to draw between the two, and Zeros and Ones certainly show the suffering of that, but Hawke is a firm hand in front of the camera. No wonder Ferrara trusts him to play two characters.

Hawke is a champion of these films. His occasional featuring in a touching drama here or a disconcerting action there is what keeps him and his abilities as a performer fresh and endearing. Zeros and Ones provides that well. It is more reliant on his image than it is on his acting. Silence falls on many of the scenes in the first act, most offer contemplative looks and the strained mind of a man fighting against his own sibling. Ferrara paints this feature with dark colours and even darker lighting. It expresses a fearful and dispassionate look at the darker side of the crime. The underbelly of drugs and prostitution is explored without comment from Ferrara, but with plenty of detail for audiences to dissect themselves.

Keen audiences may be to see new and exciting premises drafted by directors with decades of experience, Zeros and Ones is an unflinching, engaging bit of drama from Ferrara. His dependable flourishes are intact as he takes on the streets of both Rome and Vatican City. High stakes must always be met with high drama. Zeros and Ones manages that balance well and does so with some exciting new variations on what is possible from the director’s chair. It is a response to the flagging days of high-strung action flicks. Humanising the people at the heart of those is the intention of Ferrara here, and he does so with contemplation for the calm that comes before the storm.

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