A shipping freighter of jalapeno tins containing cocaine is bound for Italy. The journey has huge repercussions for an Italian crime boss (Adriano Chiaramida), a Mexican Special Forces leader (Harold Torres) and an American family (Gabriel Byrne, Andrea Riseborough, Dane DeHaan) brokering the drug deal.

Episodes viewed: 3 of 8

If you’ve ever fancied changing careers to become the leader of a drug empire (long lunches, travel ops but no life insurance or holiday pay), ZeroZeroZero provides a good handbook. Adapted from the novel by Gomorrah author Roberto Saviano by Stefano Sollima, Leonardo Fasoli and Mauricio Katz, the Sky/Studio Canal co-production provides a helicopter view of the cocaine business from multiple perspectives, tracking numerous characters speaking in different languages across many continents. If it sounds glamorous, it isn’t. ZeroZeroZero offers a serious, borderline nihilistic take on an overcrowded genre, finding its own space by minting its broad perspective with colourful but controlled filmmaking.

the storytelling is engagingly tricksy, the often-bloody action terrifically staged

The USP of the show is to analyse the narcotics business from three different strata: the buyers, the distributors and the brokers who mediate between the two. The buyers are represented by Italian organised crime syndicate ’Ndrangheta, led by ageing Don Minu (Adriano Chiaramida), his position of power built around a huge shipment of cocaine but constantly being undermined by his ambitious grandson (Giuseppe De Domenico); the distribution comes from Mexico, focussing on church-going Special Forces leader Manuel Contreras (Harold Torres) who, tired of taking orders, becomes a wannabe cartel leader with his own private army; and the go-betweens are the New Orleans-based Lynwood family, respected patriarch Edward (Gabriel Byrne), smart daughter Emma (Andrea Riseborough) and weak, sheltered son Chris (Dane DeHaan),who is thrown into the family business showing all the hard-nosed acumen of Fredo Corleone.

The concept and details (so many discarded mobile phones) feel familiar (Traffic, Narcos), but the storytelling is engagingly tricksy, the often-bloody action terrifically staged (there is a remarkable assault on a freighter carrying coke in jalapeno tins), the cinematography stunning (witness an indelible image of dead bodies being helicoptered out to sea), and a score by Mogwai adds an air of dreamy reflection unusual in the genre. In a strong cast, Torres is charismatic, while DeHaan registers as the show’s most sympathetic character and de facto hero, but it’s Riseborough who is the standout, finding engaging human qualities in a potentially one-note headstrong character. Is she ever bad in anything?

ZeroZeroZero is a sprawling, hardly original drug drama enlivened by exciting action, bravura filmmaking and tangible atmosphere. And Andrea Riseborough shines as a queen bee in waiting.

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