Maybe there is always something in Abel Ferrara ’s work that always has to be indulged; his recent work anyway. I was initially unsure what on earth to make of this new film: it’s an experimental moodscape, murky and grainy, apparently made under lockdown conditions in his adopted city of Rome (a fever-dream of lockdown perhaps) shooting largely at night in what looks like a covert guerrilla-style way. The film is topped and tailed with weird “prologue” and “epilogue” pieces to camera by its star Ethan Hawke, appearing ambiguously and semi-fictionally as himself, discussing the film, the director and whether to feel optimistic or pessimistic about life.
On paper, this could be a conventional thriller, but it’s more like the confused dream you might have after watching a conventional thriller. Hawke plays an American special forces soldier, or possibly an expatriate American mercenary, operating in Rome as part of some anti-terrorist unit. He also plays his own twin brother, a radical leftist revolutionary held captive somewhere, who rails against his oppressors, quoting Woody Guthrie: “This machine kills fascists!” The soldier is also mixed up with some sinister cabal of Russian oligarchs who have a hold over him (a glimpse of a magazine photograph hints that both brothers were acquainted with them in days gone by) and a truly strange sequence shows him being forced to have sex with one of the women so she can have a baby. The terrorists themselves succeed in blowing up various Rome monuments, the occasion for some bargain-basement CGI work. There are Christian metaphors and a quotation from St Francis: “The world is the hiding place of God.”
This film may stretch your patience to the limit and beyond. It’s minor work – but there is always something there, some restless wounded intelligence, a pugnacious worrying-away at something. Ferrara is muddled, incoherent, but also strangely concerned to make sense of – or just acknowledge – the pain and anxiety of our lives.