ZeroZeroZero (4 stars)


Compelling and brooding portrayal of the global cocaine trade penned by a man who knows it inside and out

Roberto Saviano has seen some sights in his time. Like the body of a man drowned in a huge vat of milk. When he was a teenager in Naples, during the all-out war between rival factions of the Camorra gang network, stumbling upon corpses would be commonplace. Nowadays, Saviano mostly sees the police guard appointed to protect him from violent repercussions because of his writings about the Mafia, most notoriously Gomorrah in 2006, which has subsequently been adapted for both the big and small screens.

ZeroZeroZero is the latest of his literary works to be filmed, a book so influential that it was discovered in the lair of drugs kingpin 'El Chapo' after his Mexico City arrest in 2014. An exposé of the global cocaine trade, it zooms in on three sets of characters entwined in the journey of a vast shipment from Monterrey in Mexico to Gioia Tauro on Italy's Tyrrhenian coast. First, there's the members of a Calabrian crime syndicate with Damiano Minu La Piana (Adriano Chiaramida) an ageing Don being challenged by a group including his ambitious and wily grandson Stefano (Giuseppe De Domenico); then we have Manuel (Harold Torres), a corrupt Mexican soldier aiding the Leyra brothers who are the key players behind this large haul; finally, there's the New Orleans-based Lynwood family who run the shipping operation, led by patriarch Edward (Gabriel Byrne) whose daughter Emma (Andrea Riseborough) and son Chris (Dane DeHaan) are in line to carry on his business should he ever decide to take a step back.

Travelling across continents and nations (in one episode we're in Italy and Mali), the piece also shuttles back and forth in time, usually to explore an incident from a second viewpoint. While we are always kept informed of the locations, none of the clock-hopping is ever signposted. As a viewer, you could be forgiven for thinking that you're being treated like an adult and not someone who needs spoon-fed every single detail, as is the way of many contemporary TV dramas. And rather than flitting around hectically between the three competing story threads, the viewer is asked to just sit and live with each one for a lengthy period of time.

Don't expect to laugh or even smirk at any point during these eight episodes which feature an opening credits sequence that is (literally) the darkest ever put on a small screen. Richly complementing the sombre fare, Mogwai's electronic score dips and weaves through the action, pulsing when danger is afoot and easing off during the brief moments when we can relax. ZeroZeroZero is a brooding and compelling series that will stick to your bones and trouble your mind.

Sky Atlantic, starts Thursday 4 February, 9pm; all episodes available now on NOW TV.

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