#byNWR: Too Old to Die Young - Episode 3: The Hermit

After a deliberately mannered and drawn out foray into near total silence with the previous episode, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Too Old to Die Young returns to the United States with the third episode entitled The Hermit and eventually reunites with our main character Martin Jones (Miles Teller).  Most of this episode, however, is designed to flesh out two newly introduced characters, Viggo Larsen (John Hawkes) and Diana DeYoung (Jena Malone).  The most notable difference, however, is the amount of dialogue and less emphasis on long pauses, moving things along at a much brisker pace than the pilot or previous episode.

Opening on a self-help group session, Larsen waits patiently for the meeting to depart so he can take out a pedophile in the group only to find himself further and further down on his luck.  Dying of kidney failure with ongoing dialysis, Larsen doesn’t have much to live for save for ridding the world of its most evil wrongdoers for a price waged by New Age healer/godmother DeYoung.  Meanwhile daytime detective/nighttime assassin Martin Jones traces a crime scene cleanup to one of Larsen’s hit jobs but instead of arresting him inquires about a possible partnership as hitmen. 

New to Refn’s underworld of reprobates seeking redemption through righteous acts of violence is John Hawkes who, fresh off of reprising his role for HBO’s Deadwood: The Movie exudes an air of melancholy and weariness when at rest or sharp focus of his finely tuned hitman skills when needed.  Jena Malone, inarguably writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn’s Diane Ladd or Charlotte Gainsbourg after her infamous necrophilia scene in Refn’s The Neon Demon, makes her presence known as an all-seeing godmother of sorts providing emotional healing to clients on the surface while striking deals with them to do away with those who wronged them under the table.

As always, Refn and cinematographer Darius Khondji’s eye for psychedelic color schemas as heightened reality has the power to make even the most mundane setups look kaleidoscopic.  Take for instance an interview DeYoung does for detective Jones in her own office with numerous extended takes of the camera affixed to the side of Jones’ face backlit against a wall.  It’s a simple setup yet is lit and framed with the eyes of a slick technical craftsman, proving what you can do with the tools of filmmaking needn’t cost the budget of a typical summer tentpole movie.  Just pointing the camera at a wall can look absolutely stunning when you have people like Refn and Khondji doing it.

With two earlier episodes that functioned somewhat as endurance tests even for the most dedicated Refn fans, the third episode The Hermit presents a fresh change of pace and mood, touching on the director’s trademark chilly neon synth vibes and offering a poignant backstory to a character quickly shaping up to be an ally.  It’s also shorter than the first two episodes, running a little over an hour versus the feature-length hour-and-a-half running times.  Both John Hawkes and Jena Malone are fantastic in it and those who thought the whole show would be like the pilot are in for a most pleasant surprise here. 

- Andrew Kotwicki