Nicholas Winding Refn insists his 10-plus hour Amazon series is a 10-hour movie, so here I am, intrepid film critic beholden to ten hours of a snail-burn “drama” with all of the Refn fetishes you can shake a neon stick at in slow motion.
His indulgent meandering is second to none, and so are his cinematic panoramas. Sun-kissed, neon-lit, blood-soaked tapestries of nearly still images grace every hour, typically involving Refn’s camera slowly panning, spinning, or dollying around the eerie calm of a criminal underworld rife with intriguing characters. Miles Teller, John Hawkes, Jena Malone, Nell Tiger, Cristina Rodlo, and Augusto Aguilera are, like me, beholden to the director’s insistent madness. Their roles carry weight, thematically and otherwise, yet are consistently forced into dialogue scenes where seven-ish lines are spoken across five minutes. Each episode is both interminable and beautiful, a grand case of auteurism at its finest and grossest. Satiric flourishes and philosophical musings cut in randomly when Refn feels the urge to “say something” about our current fucked-up world and how fucked-up we’re becoming as a species.
At the halfway point things pick up as Teller’s morally wayward cop Martin goes on the lamb in search of meaning and a mean son-of-a-bitch to kill. As debt to a local drug lord he’s working for, he travels to New Mexico to hunt a dirty pair of pornographer rapists. A surrealist car chase ensues and proves deliriously entertaining. Amid the detours and debauchery, Refn’s purpose eventually unfolds, somewhere in between a gaggle of cops chanting “fascism” and Rodlo turning assassin and calling herself “The High Priestess of Death.” Refn nearly achieves greatness for the first time since Drive, but he can’t stick the landing. An anti-climactic thirty-minute finale brings everything to an abrupt halt. So unless he’s lying and he means for this mean show to go on like a “show” and not a “movie,” then that’s it. The last half-hour ends with a pretty-good scene, not a film-ending scene.
Too Old to Die Young is a fascinating experiment, melding cinema’s auteurism and television’s longevity to produce a piece of art unlike anything you’re likely to see on television this year. It’s both maddening and mesmerizing, and a thumbing of the Danish filmmaker’s nose to the very concept of television.