Published on March 10th, 2021 | by Craig Silliphant0
Too Old to Die Young
Nicolas Winding Refn brings together a dream team in Ed Brubaker, Darius Khondji, Diego Garcia, Cliff Martinez and more for a beautiful, violent crime saga.
Even at his most self-indulgent, I love Nicolas Winding Refn. I consider Drive to be one of the best movies of the 21st century so far. Some of his older films like Pusher are great. And weird stuff like Only God Forgives and Neon Demon are compelling, even when they struggle to work. When I first saw Only God Forgives, I thought it was beautiful, but I hated it. I was drawn deeper and deeper into some weird obsession with it, until I realized I loved it.
Too Old to Die Young is Refn’s foray into television, though he thinks of it as a long movie, not 10 episodes, which was the same debate that came up with Twin Peaks The Return, a show with a lot of similar vibes. Partnering with Refn is writer Ed Brubaker, who has long been known to comic readers as a fan favourite, both for mainstream runs on comics like Captain America, but moreso for dark indie noir like Sleeper, Criminal, Fatale, and The Fade Out. It was also co-written by Halley Gross, who Refn has called a vital contributor to the show’s creative trinity.
The story revolves around a few different characters that come into each other’s orbit. There’s an LAPD detective (Miles Teller), his teenage girlfriend (Nell Tiger Free from The Servant), a cancer patient hitman and his handler (John Hawkes and Jena Malone). It centres around Teller’s detective, who has become a hitman in underground LA, entangled with a myriad of gangsters and cartel members, including Jesus and Yaritza (Augusto Aguilera and Cristina Rodlo).
Twin Peaks and works like Criminal and The Fade Out are a couple of great touch points for Too Old to Die Young. It’s like a cross between David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, Lars von Trier, and Refn himself. Maybe 10% the slow cinema of Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels.
Its deliberate pace isn’t for everyone. It takes its time, though it’s never boring. There are a lot of long gazes into the distance, even during conversations. There are long silences, even during conversations. No one looks at each other while they are talking unless it’s to make a point of some kind, even during conversations. You get the point. And every frame is a beautiful piece of art to drink up, from dirty crime-ridden alleys to neon lights of madness. It’s beautifully staged, with brilliant cinematography from legend Darius Khondji and Diego Garcia. There’s also another hypnotizing score from Cliff Martinez, a frequent collaborator with Refn (and Steven Soderbergh).
All those longing gazes and slow conversations are punctuated by stark, visceral violence, made all the more shocking in the way it cuts through the quiet atmosphere. There’s also a healthy dose of sexuality, though interestingly, it’s often focused on Jesus, rather than his attractive (and dangerous) wife. I thought this was a smart flip; it’s as if Refn wants it to be dark and sexually exploitive, but he knows that women have seen enough exploitation. So why not linger on Jesus’ abs, tucked into his little speedo?
Too Old to Die Young is Refn at his best, with Brubaker to reign in his more surreal tendencies and give him a story that is worth following (don’t worry, there’s plenty of surreal to be had and apparently the final product is much different from what Brubaker wrote). The show/movie is over the top in so many ways, that you sometimes can’t help but laugh at his self-indulgence — or his commitment to the bit. My only complaint is that the last couple of episodes feel out of order dramatically, but that’s obviously on purpose. Perhaps to eschew formulaic convention or spit out one last gasp of weirdness as it crosses the finish line.
Too Old to Die Young is a story about the American Dream. Or the slow death of it. It’s about the world that lurks below the surface, populated by killers and victims, sometimes hard to tell apart. It’s somewhat clumsily about Trump and the rise of fascism in America. It’s also about connection with other human beings. And the fleeting nature of life. Or maybe it’s just a really cool, slow series of double tap headshots. Either way, I can’t wait to watch it again.