Amazon Prime's 'Too Old to Die Young' Brings a Neon-Lit Assassin Show to Cannes
For more Cannes 2019 coverage, read about our favorite movies of the festival.
It's difficult to review television out of a film festival, especially if you can only see a few episodes, and those episodes are not chronologically the first episodes, and the show is made by a director as confounding as Nicolas Winding Refn. The fourth and fifth episodes of Refn's new Amazon Prime show Too Old to Die Young, which will hit the streaming service June 14, premiered at the Cannes International Film Festival in a nearly two-and-a-half-hour block, introducing us to a troubled Los Angeles cop, his coed girlfriend, and a vast underbelly of horrific crime roiling right under the surface of the world.
Gleaned from the two episodes screened, Miles Teller plays Martin, a slightly dirty cop who moonlights as his assassin buddy's getaway driver (sound kinda familiar?), and also takes on some murder contracts of his own. His thing, which supposedly sets him apart from all the other assassins out there, is that he needs to know what exactly his marks did that was bad enough to put a contract out on their lives. On one occasion, he refuses to murder a man who owes another man a relatively small sum of money, instead simply forcing him to find the money and pay up so that he can keep living.
Throughout this, he's mentored by a man named Viggo (John Hawkes), a vengeful killer who executes people he feels have done wrong. In an opening scene, after a lengthy sequence inside a police support group, Viggo tells Martin that one of the men raped his daughter. As Martin starts their car, Viggo saunters over to the other man, whips out a knife, and stabs him. The series is co-written and co-created by crime fiction and comic writer Ed Brubaker, who, among others, introduced the character of the "Winter Soldier" to Captain America comics in the early 2000s.
The cast for the show is kind of inspired. Teller is yet another of those young, white, square-faced male ciphers that Refn loves to use, placing him in the middle of scenes where all he does and watch and wait for a sudden burst of violence. Jena Malone, a holdover from Refn's high fashion danse macabre The Neon Demon, plays a medium, counseling Viggo on which actions to take next. James Urbaniak appears as a violent porn director, at one point cooing into Teller's ear, "You wanna be in a scene?" Hideo Kojima is even in one scene as a yakuza bodyguard with a sword.
And, yes, Refn has seemingly managed to make an entire TV series in his slow-paced style, drawing his scenes out until they're wire-thin, allowing ample room for his characters to pause and reflect and stare at each other for a bit before continuing the conversation. One chat between Teller and Urbaniak in a bar takes up a good 20 minutes (again, these were just two episodes, and together they're considerably longer than two hours). Whether or not viewers will have the patience to stick with a show like this for 11 more hours remains to be seen.
As does the actual plot's ability to deliver. We've only seen a fraction of where this story goes and what to expect from it, so it's difficult to say whether it works or not. As a taste of what Refn's got, it has all of his quirks: deeply colored light from sources unknown, dark dealings with evil creatures, violence against both men and women (though the female-led violence is always scantily clad). It also has a significant amount of humor: In one early scene, a bunch of cops chant "FASCISM!" while having a team-building meeting at their precinct (which, aside from being funny, is also absolutely terrifying). There's an extended car chase through the desert between an electric hatchback (foreign-made, a weak man's vehicle) and an American muscle car (homegrown, powerful, a car for alphas and Chads) set to Barry Manilow's "Mandy," in which the faces of the men involved fade in and out like some sort of overdramatic Kate Bush music video.
It's also difficult to tell how much of this stoic male macho-ness Refn actually believes in and how much he's trying to subvert -- since we've only seen a fraction of what he refers to as a "13-hour film." During a press conference in Cannes, he explained how much of his ideas for the series were formed and molded by the Trump election -- which is also what gives the show a whiff of pre-apocalyptic anxiety. Martin catches the tail-end of a church service in which the pastor drawls an extended rattlesnake metaphor to his assembled flock that contains the mantra, "My fangs are Smith and Wesson." "The whole idea is to create a show where women were the hope and all the men were demolished," Refn said.
"The more perfect society gets, the more psychotic we become," Viggo mutters to Martin as they stare out onto the glittering expanse of nighttime L.A. It's exactly the kind of frightening language used by the troubled classes prone to outbursts of violence against those they fear are taking their power away from them. Refn's series shows how easy it is for the gun-worshipers to seduce the disenfranchised; the vigilante cruelty of Too Old to Die Young feels at once fantastical and stylized and yet all too real.