Zeros and Ones

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Here's the official plot synopsis for Abel Ferrara's new movie Zeros and Ones:

“Ethan Hawke and director Abel Ferrara join forces for this gritty, tense political-thriller set on one deadly night in Rome. Called to the city to stop an imminent terrorist bombing, soldier J.J. (Hawke) desperately seeks news of his imprisoned rebel brother, Justin (also Hawke), who holds knowledge that could thwart the attack. Navigating the capital’s darkened streets, J.J. races to a series of ominous encounters, hoping to keep the Vatican from being blown to bits.”

It's good that they provided this to me, because I would not have gathered any of that from seeing the film.

It probably would have helped if Ferrara had explained who any of the characters are, or what was supposed to be happening at any given moment. Then again, the director has always been a bit of a bad boy. Maybe he thinks making a movie comprehensible is for suckers. After all, why tell a story when you can have dark, grainy footage of Ethan Hawke walking around Rome – often in slow motion, no less – and occasionally talking to people whose identity the audience will never figure out?

Did I mention that the movie is apparently set during Covid? Either that or people are just wearing face masks for no reason. Zeros and Ones has nothing to say about Covid, though. Nor does it have anything to say about terrorism, despite the scenes of buildings randomly blowing up via atrocious visual effects. Hawke provides a lot of voiceover dialogue in which he reads Biblical quotes, but the picture says nothing about faith or religion either.

Even the structure of the movie is weird. It opens with Hawke addressing the camera, as himself. He talks about wanting to work with Ferrara. Then the movie plays for roughly 70 minutes, at which time the slowest-moving end credit scrawl in the history of cinema begins. That goes on for a good seven or eight minutes, after which Hawke reappears to say that, like us, he just watched Zeros and Ones. Not surprisingly, he initially appears speechless about the movie he stars in. (In fairness, it must be disheartening to realize you've made the worst film of your career.) Finally getting his bearings, the actor attempts to ascribe great meaning to the debacle we've all witnessed, before revealing that his intro and outro are “part of the movie.” Take that, Marvel post-credits scenes!

I don't know what Zeros and Ones is supposed to be. I only know that I was bored to a level no human being should ever have to experience. There's no story, no characterization, no form. It's just a series of images strung together, going nowhere and signifying nothing. Even the scene where Hawke is forced to make love to a woman at gunpoint fails to generate interest. If Ferrara had something in mind, he utterly fails to convey it to the viewer.

In John Hughes' classic 1987 comedy Planes, Trains & Automobiles, businessman Neal Page (Steve Martin) goes on a disaster-ridden trek with shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith (played by John Candy). He becomes so frustrated with his traveling companion that he goes on a tirade, saying, “I could tolerate any insurance seminar. For days, I could sit there and listen to them go on and on with a big smile on my face. They'd say, 'How can you stand it?' I'd say, 'Cause I've been with Del Griffith. I can take anything.'”

I know how he feels. I've seen Zeros and Ones. I can take anything.


out of four

Zeros and Ones is rated R for language, some violence, bloody images, sexual material and drug content. The running time is 1 hour and 26 minutes.