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Movie Review: 'Zeros and Ones' Abel Ferrara's Latest Underwhelms

by Sean Patrick 9 days ago in movie

An ambitious mess, Ethan Hawke and Abel Ferrara team for Zeros and Ones and blow up the Vatican.

I was really excited when I received a screening link of the movie Zeros and Ones. Ethan Hawke starring in a movie directed by Abel Ferrara, a movie intended to reflect what the last year and a half has been like, it appeared to be a can’t miss proposition. And then I watched Zeros and Ones and found it to be a complete miss. Abel Ferrara is unquestionably a brilliant auteur, a visionary with his own incredibly unique style. That doesn’t mean he gets it right every time.

Zeros and Ones stars Ethan Hawke in a dual role of twins, one of whom is a soldier in the war on terror and the other, a revolutionary who is maniacally dedicated to his anti-war stance. When the revolutionary goes missing amid bizarre circumstances in a locked down Rome, Italy, the soldier must break the rules to try and rescue him from the people who have captured him while also trying not to get caught breaking COVID protocol curfews while also following the orders of his military handlers.

At least, I think that’s the plot of Zeros and Ones. The reality is, I have no idea what happens in Zeros and Ones. The whole movie is shot on handheld cameras with the quality of a last generation cell phone. Every scene is so dark and chaotic that it is nearly impossible to keep track of the action. I realize that much of this is intended, Ferrara is keeping us in the immediate excitement and confusion of Hawke’s protagonist, but, this extreme dedication to realism also happens to be extremely unwatchable.

Allusions to COVID-19 are certainly there in Zeros and Ones but in very odd fashion. A scene in which Hawke’s soldier visits a local woman whom he appears to have a relationship with stands out. Hawke enters and the woman, whom we've never met, hands him a mask. She puts on a mask and the two kiss while wearing the masks. Then she removes her mask to go and talk to her son, a two year old and Hawke follows her, removing his mask as he enters the child’s bedroom. Why does this happen? I have no idea. If this is a commentary of some sort on the culture surrounding masking and social distancing, it was completely lost in translation.

Then there is the terrorism aspect of Zeros and Ones. Hawke’s soldier is on assignment in Rome though whether he is there to prevent a terrorist attack or take part in one is, again, lost on me. I assume he’s a good guy, that he’s trying to prevent the attack but even context clues are absent from Zeros and Ones. We see Hawke’s soldier partaking in extreme measures when chasing down potential terrorists but when he parts ways with his handlers does he become a terrorist? I have no idea.

Late in the movie The Vatican explodes, an apparent victim of a terrorist attack. I only know that the Vatican was blown up because I read someone else's review that offered some conjecture that it was the Vatican that exploded. Everything was so dark I couldn’t see it, perhaps it was clearer on the big screen. The explosion effect does little to help either, the explosions look like something a kid could conjure up with some basic at home software.

I don’t intend to mock Abel Ferrara, I believe in him as an artist. His recent movie Tommaso, starring Willem Dafoe, is a lovely film, a testament to patience and attention to character detail. Zeros and Ones, on the other hand, plays like a Sweded version of Sicario made by teenagers with IPhones and a dad who loves hamming it up as a movie star. Not even Ethan Hawke beginning and ending the film with an out of character monologue about how much making a movie with Abel Ferrara meant to him can bring any semblance of sense to Zeros and Ones.

Zeros and Ones will have a limited theatrical release on November 19th, 2021.


Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast. I am a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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Read next: 'Waru'

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