Ferrara’s latest is a rushed reaction to the pandemic
Zeros and Ones is Abel Ferrara’s latest film and one that has the auteur making what feels like a reactionary piece to the pandemic, this time starring Ethan Hawke rather than his usual partner in crime Willem Dafoe. The film’s muddled mess of a narrative transpires over one night in Rome and has J.J. (Hawke), a soldier, trying to stop a terrorist bombing during a pandemic, while also trying to rescue his twin brother—also played by Hawke. The meat of the film if you take out the intro and outro by the star leave the running time barely at a scant 60 minutes, which can at times feel excruciatingly tedious as Hawke travels from dark alley to dark room delivering improvised dialog as he does his best to look busy and imposing on camera.
Having reviewed a few of Ferrara’s films recently, in comparison this film feels less experimental and more cobbled together to maximize Hawke’s screen time to justify his face on the poster. The cinematography is digital mashed potatoes, shooting at night, digitally, with little to no light, stealing shots on locations really makes the cinematography rough and sometimes hard to discern what’s actually happening on screen at any given time. While I wanted to engage with the story, I found it hard to crack as the narrative was elusive and felt fleeting from scene to scene. Right when the film begins to gain a certain amount of momentum the film ends leaving the viewer somewhat dumbfounded to what they just endured.
Zeros and Ones was a rough watch and I consider myself a fan of Ferrara’s work. So I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for those lured in by the very conventional poster art they will undoubtly encounter on a streaming platform. While Hawke does make it somewhat watchable, his charisma cant save this film from its shortcomings, which are even commented on by the actor after the fact in an outro after the credits, when even Hawke admits he had no idea what the film was about. Zeros and Ones feels more like a rough sketch of an idea that will no doubt confound and frustrate those that give this film the time of day, since it fails to really deliver anything remotely close to a coherent narrative in exchange for its audience’s patience.
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