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When I spoke to Nicolas Winding Refn at the Lumiere film festival in Lyon a while back, he told me that though cinema would find a way to return in the digital multiplatform age: “Television is dead. And television will not be reborn.” He can only of course have meant that mischievously, because Refn has just completed a huge new TV show, a quasi-supernatural LA horror-thriller noir entitled Too Old to Die Young, two episodes of which premiered on the bigger-than-big screen of the Grand Theatre Lumiere at Cannes. The programme is produced by Amazon, with whom Cannes’s relations are considerably better than with Netflix. It incidentally contains a clip of Curtis Harrington’s cult thriller Night Tide, starring Dennis Hopper, from 1961: a film which Refn has championed on his new streaming platform.
The show is every bit as hypnotically horrible and upsetting as you would expect, with terse lines, tense pauses, dead-eyed glares, all conducted at the andante pace of a zombie continuing to move after being shot – and delivering a doomy, sepulchral, and very plausible evocation of pure evil. Despite its occasional forays into the fierce sunshine of California and New Mexico, this is a creature of the night, lit by neon, an underworld of madness and fear. The two episodes shown here allow only for a partial understanding of what is supposed to be going on, but it’s clearly influenced by Lynch and Tarantino, and like Refn’s bygone horror Only God Forgives, there is a sense memory of the corridor of blood that Travis Bickle will walk down in Taxi Driver. And the hero himself is a little like Ryan Gosling’s implacable wheelman in Refn’s Drive, from 2011.
He is Martin, an LA cop played by Miles Teller, whose partner has been killed and now appears to have made contact with a cult underground network of mobsters and vampiric demons who know who the bad guys are and for whom Martin will now carry out righteous slayings on his own time, like some postmodern zero-hours samurai. He has a dodgy secret relationship with a billionaire’s teen daughter Janey (Nell Tiger Free), for whom he is a bit of LAPD rough. Martin and his fellow freelance avenger Viggo (John Hawkes) carry out payback hits; and the atmosphere in the station house is just as freaky as his secret nighttime excursions. The cops have to listen to a bizarre motivational pep talk from their senior officer, which combines far right rhetoric with a number on his ukulele. The main event arrives when Martin demands the nastiest job possible: an attack on two brothers who run a horrifyingly psychotic abuse-ring porn empire in Albuquerque, and whose villainy involves a woman who is to hit back both at her captors and at Martin himself, in ways for which she can’t be blamed.
Despite the influences mentioned above, Too Old To Die Young is tonally different: there is really no humour or black comedy of the sort Tarantino would contrive and none of the moments of empathy or twisted romance that would emerge from Lynch. The spaces into which these elements might go are occupied here by pauses, silences, blanks, through which the dry desert wind whistles, or in which the jarring electronic musical score plays havoc with your nerves.
This is a story about sexual violence and the misogynist spectacle is uncomfortable, although arguably part of the point. It could be that Jena Malone, glimpsed here at any early stage, will have a greater part to play. Too Old To Die Young is macabre, and nauseating in many ways, but very well made and very watchable.
Source: The Guardian
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