“When I made this show, I was interested in going into the world of where the teenagers control,” says director Nicolas Winding Refn, who returns to Cannes for a fourth time in eight years with his upcoming Amazon LAPD cop streaming series Too Old to Die Young, which he co-created with Ed Brubaker.
“This is their domain,” says Refn about his newfound love for streaming, which he declared to the world after the premiere of episodes 4 & 5 at the Grand Lumiere Theatre on Saturday night. The series hits Amazon Prime on June 14, and as cinematic as it is, there are no plans in the works for a special limited two-city release by the streamer — just so Refn fans can savor it on the big screen.
“I don’t want to bring them into where I’m from,” the Danish director says about teen audiences and the cinema. “I don’t need to, I want to go into their arena to be part of that.”
“The show was created for the cell phone,” says Refn, who at one point told his DP Darius Khondji he wanted to shoot the series on an iPhone, especially since they were watching playback on their mobile phones. (Shooting on an iPhone was out of the question due to resolutions problems.)
With Too Old to Die Young, Refn continues his love affair with the City of Angels and its noir elements, so viscerally established in Drive (which won him best director at Cannes in 2011) about a stuntman-turned-vigilante against a mobster, and continued on in 2017’s Neon Demon, which centered on an aspiring fashion model in literally a cutthroat profession. Like Ryan Gosling’s driver without no name in Drive, in Too Old, Miles Teller is a corrupt LA detective, Martin, who finds a mentor in a twisted ex-fed, Viggo, (John Hawkes). Viggo and Martin both share acerbic intentions to rid their worlds of scum, some of them being rapists and pornographers (from the looks of episodes 4 and 5 at least).
Many here at Cannes might have been quick to notice the gun-toting testosterone of the episodes (Teller’s signature kill is shooting the bad guys in the head), or mistaking Too Old To Die Young for misogyny. However, what we are bound to see in the series is the triumph of the female voice. She takes over the for the standard heroic males as they fall short (spoiler: there’s a kickass female assassin who Cannes moviegoers did not meet yet).
“It’s about female empowerment in a world that is enormously dark and male-dominated. The idea of what is going on in the U.S. with men and women…where it’s about the control of female bodies or how women are objectified,” explains Refn about Too Old To Die Young’s overall themes. “There’s a sense of hatred I sensed and it terrified me as I have a wife and daughters.”
“It was also very important that everything that was macabre and mayhem was also spread out between men and women; that’s really what life is,” says the filmmaker, “How do you accept all forms of sexuality being objectified? And how do you accept all victims in all forms of sexuality rather than narrowing it down to one group that dominates?”
To those naysayers who might have a problem with the pace of his noir, Refn answers, “Why is movement so slow? Well because life is very slow. It’s just the shiny objects in theaters that are thrown around a lot faster. Why does cinema have to be shiny objects thrown around?” There’s a long desert face-off in episode 5 with Teller’s Martin and a New Mexico pornographer that is hysterical, and turns Sergio Leone on its head. Refn is giddy about the series’ 10-hour structure, a sandbox to experiment with “his absurdist poetry” and characters’ “internal odysseys” as well as narrative.
Many wondered why Refn decided to show episodes 4 & 5 here at Cannes, versus the first two of Too Old To Die Young. Yes, there is a larger overall character arc, but Refn was serving up the episodes to Cannes audiences, in a way that teenagers, like his daughters, consume digital content. It’s not always in a page 1-to-100 type of sequence; they skip around.
So has Refn abandoned cinema altogether in favor of streaming?
No, that would be boring. He zags after he zigs. Up next is producing John Hillcoat’s Witchfinder General in the UK, a project that originally began with Refn. But don’t worry cinephiles, Refn will be back on the big screen.
On a very special Crew Call podcast from Cannes, Refn and Teller expound more on the origins of Too Old to Die Young and more. Give it a listen: