One of Cannes' favourites sons, Nicolas Winding Refn, returned to the Croisette to showcase episodes four and five of his imminent Amazon series, Too Old to Die Young. Why not episodes one and two? Because four and five, he claims, work as a standalone feature. Though this being Refn, you can bet his decision was also made with mischief in mind.
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Written when Refn moved to Los Angeles during the run up to the presidential election, this is the Danish auteur leaning into an America on the brink of apocalypse. It is also him doing his thing – chic style, deliberate pacing, taciturn protagonists, extreme violence. The (anti)hero, Martin (Miles Teller, so blank-faced and tight-lipped he makes Ryan Gosling’s performances in Drive and Only God Forgives look OTT) is a cop who sits silent and immobile in the station as the rest of the boys in blue chant a celebration of their fascism. By night, though – and you can bet most of this show will unfold in the small hours, when Refn's neon-aesthetic looks prettiest – Martin is a hitman.
Given Refn's long-time obsession with the Samurai code, you won’t be surprised to hear that Martin is, however, a hitman with honour, only taking on contracts whereby he can delete grade-A scumbags. In episode 4, we hear of jobs targeting a father who rapes his daughter and a coach who has abused seven of his students. And now Martin has hit the scumbag jackpot – a couple of brothers in Albuquerque who run a porn ring specialising in rape movies.
Firing on all cylinders
A pulp noir, Too Old to Die Young revels in Cliff Martinez's electro-score, pulsing one moment, pounding the next, and sepulchral lighting courtesy of Darius Khondji and Diego Garcia. Favouring slow pans, it glides between neon diners, shimmering swimming pools and cavernous multi-storey car parks, and even a PTSD meeting, into which Martin and his hitman partner Viggo (John Hawkes) wander to locate a mark, is shot like a Goya painting. And there is, of course, a car chase – it closes out episode five and it’s quite magnificent, the match of anything seen in Drive. How does Refn do it, considering he doesn’t even hold a driver’s license? "I shoot a lot of car commercials," was his answer when Total Film asked him the next day.
Of course, whether all of this otherworldly style and ominous silence will stretch thin over 10 episodes totalling 13 hours remains to be seen – thankfully soon, for the series drops in mid-June. Or perhaps later episodes will morph into something dense and layered, with more to do for characters glimpsed here, such as Martin's super-bright girlfriend Janey (Nell Tiger Free) and her billionaire father (Billy Baldwin). But two things are for sure: 1) surprises will be in store, for Refn promises that his show is impossible to predict, and that one of the main themes, barely glimpsed here, is that women are the hope and men must be demolished; and 2) Too Old to Die Young seems certain to be must-watch TV.
For more Cannes 2019 coverage, read our review of the Robert Pattinson-starring The Lighthouse.