Is Amazon Prime’s ZeroZeroZero a Front for a Money Laundering Scheme?

Is it possible for an international TV series, one that is based on a best-selling book, that is a follow-up to another best selling franchise which spawned a successful film and TV series, is backed by a world renowned author and four conglomerates, is it possible for a show like that to somehow float under the radar?

I looked to my father midway through episode five and said “How much money did they spend on this show?” “A lot,” he said. And he’s right.

Yet why did I have to be told by a colleague that this show existed? Maybe if Amazon spent all their advertising on this show rather than the stupid Al Pacino Nazi show Hunters they would have had a solid hit on their hands. That is if they wanted to make money. I was shocked to see the scope and production value. It films in about five languages; English, French, Italian, Spanish and Arabic, and the eight episode limited series is handled by a team of 3 directors who each handle 2-3 episodes and a steady group of writers. The scope of this production is off the charts and dwarfs about any other major media project in size, even a major feature film. More than the recent Fast and the Furious movies, Jurassic World, or even the recent James Bond franchise, whose most recent entry filmed in four countries over six months. Amazon Prime’s ZeroZeroZero has them all beat by filming in five (five!) countries over eight months. That’s a lot of film permits to get. A lot of distribution to secure, or maybe not for a company as big as this.

Premiered on March 6th.
Maybe it’s because I just came off of Ozark Season Three, which released three weeks after this show came out to much greater awareness and fanfare that I imagined the possibility of this show as a money laundering scheme. There’s a brilliant scene in Ozark where Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) as a Casino Manager is trying to figure out how to launder money quicker, and happens upon the Band Manager of REO Speedwagon. He speaks to the manager in his sly trademark coded language. Then later, the tension of the scene is brilliantly undercut by the manager, gleefully and blatantly confirming his acceptance via an open public cell phone call with the band: “Yeah this guy wants us to launder money,” he says. A recent Forbes article showed the band’s exposure on the show landed them on the Billboard Top 10 for the first time in their careers (which predates the chart) and funny enough they’re expected to tour near in my home country this summer at the Niagra Fallsview Casino. [Pandemic results pending.]

Unlike Ozark, there is no such humor found in ZeroZeroZero. Aside from a brief respite in Episode 7; a high point filled with unexpected romance and peak relaxation performances, director and creator Stefano Sollima (Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado) hardly concerns himself or his two co-directors with good humour or much laughter. It’s an overlooked element that would otherwise heighten a show if it weren’t so laser focused and brutally efficient on getting from A to B. Adapted from the book by international best selling author Roberto Saviano, the series essentially plays out as a larger than life scale procedural about a shipment of cocaine brokered from Mexico to Italy. The visuals are strong enough to overpower any concerns anyone might have about reading subtitles, and there’s wall to wall action. Meanwhile you can simply wait for the English plot line about a family of brokers (Gabriel Byrne, Andrea Riseborough, and Dane Dehaan, all strong) in over their heads who own a shipping business teetering on the edge of insolvency.

Actor Dane Dehaan as Chris. (Image courtesy of Sky Atlantic. A Division of Comcast.)

Amazon, who is #5 on the Fortune 500 distributes the show in North America and Spain through their Amazon Prime TV Channel. AT&T, who is #9 distributes through their Warner Media Network subsidiary: HBO Europe. French media monopoly Vivendi of course handles distribution in France. And the rest of the show is co-financed from a subsidiary of Comcast, #32 along with some local Italian businesses. It’s not so much that it’s easy to see where a scheme might occur, just that there’s such a large unprecedented interconnected network, rife with opportunity. Not everybody can be shooting straight. Critics often denounce the straight to VOD movies of Nicolas Cage and John Cusack filmed in Louisiana as tax avoiding schemes. It’s easy to imagine now the streaming version to that effect. Streaming services and conglomerates are not required by law to release detailed numbers to the public of how their assets perform, despite being public companies. It only has to assure us with confidence that somehow everything is going well. A poker face similar to the one all the characters maintain throughout this show, like the one Jason Bateman had on Ozark (or because he’s Jason Bateman, real life). It helps to have talent in front of and behind the camera to mask you and convince you from that idea of conspiracy. All the players involved do a great job of hiding their true intentions to other characters but showing the audience through the 8 hours this series takes to consume.

FilmGamer favourite Andrea Riseborough (Black Mirror episode: Crocodile) puts on a quirky spin as part of a family led by Gabriel Byrne and young DiCaprio look alike Dane Dehaan (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) who broker a large cocaine deal between the Mexicans and the Italians to save their shipping business. The story shifts perspectives back and forth leading up to and back through plot points similar to the video game Quantum Break or more simply: Rashomon-style storytelling. Key moments play out from one point of view and then rewind to view the other perspective for greater impact. It’s not done to obfuscate but to maximize the impact of gravity to the storyline which itself is barebones. You basically follow the family on a journey across the world as they move an illegal container shipment. You then follow a spec ops mercenary instituting structural change in a drug cartel, with an Italian family old-timer grandfather pitted against his young grandson on the other end. It all successfully conveys the scope of what is going on and every plot line has some interesting characters yet it struggles to cathartically weave them together. Overall, it’s worth the ride as it’s hardly a struggle to watch. Unlike say The Wire or Traffic. It’s all style with little substance.

Simply put, if you want to scratch that Narcos itch, are exhausted of Ozark, have called Saul and broke bad, ZeroZeroZero; which is traffic speak for “the purest cocaine on the market”, is your best remaining option for a strong fix. I cannot tell how you will react to some of the violence, indulgence of cliches, or the overall lack of substance, but it does make for a heck of a ride. For the record I was interested in all 3 plotlines which as per the rules of plotting from the last 5 years dictate a theme must always revolve around family, business/ family business and the sins of the father.

Rating: 7.8/10

A FilmGamer Continuum Scale:   -3   -2   -1   0   +1   +2   +3   /   +1


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