#byNWR: Too Old to Die Young - Episode 5: The Fool

In my review of the previous installment of Nicolas Winding Refn’s shape-shifting Los Angeles crime saga Too Old to Die Young, I ended the article with a word of warning for what was ahead in the following episode.  Looking back that may have been a fruitless effort on my part as there is quite simply nothing in the prior episodes that will prepare you for what the Danish provocateur unleashes on the unsuspecting viewer within the first five minutes.  

Known as the other episode screened at the Cannes Film Festival in a theater setting, Refn opens on a sequence that does everything in its power to get you to turn the show off and watch something else.  You’re either in or out and Refn gets that out of the way almost immediately with the opening credits playing over the sounds of a gay gang rape of an eighteen-year old boy enacted by middle-aged pornographer Stevie Crockett (James Urbaniak), the next target of avenger Martin Jones (Miles Teller). 

While not much is shown, cutting away before the worst moments, the slow dialogue driven buildup navigated by inarguably the most thoroughly and perversely unsettling monologue delivered by an actor in years.  From the way James Urbaniak says his lines with a slow, asexual and amoral delivery to his thick rimmed glasses, cowboy necklace and neatly dressed in black appearance, Stevie Crockett is dripping from head to toe with indescribable evil and for the first time watching this Amazon Studios series I felt really scared.

Soon however, the episode shifts gears when Martin tracks down Stevie to his desert hideout and while the tension is no doubt sustained and built up to a fever pitch, it is here that the episode soon reverses itself and quickly becomes the most exciting and satisfying action thriller piece since the director’s 2011 Cannes Film Festival favorite Drive.  From the ironic use of Barry Manilow on the soundtrack to one of the longest state-spanning high-speed car chases with shotguns and pistols firing, Refn’s ability to bring the horrific opening of his episode The Fool back full circle to renew the audience’s investment in the series is a testament to his immense talent as a filmmaker.

The danger and evil permeating this episode is palpable while the denouement plays like a reassuring hand on our shoulder whispering in everything will be alright, of the episodes yet this is far and away the best and most challenging one aired yet!  Refn does everything in his power to alienate the squeamish from the auditorium while testing his own disciples’ endurance levels only to provide the sweetest of sweet rewards in the end. 

Make no mistake, this is not something most people or even the staunchest of Refn fans will tolerate.  It is deliberately offensive, transgressive and extreme.  And yet as with his previous theatrical feature The Neon Demon, this got such a full-blooded reaction from yours truly I can’t help but praise it for Refn demonstrating all of his powers over the cinematic medium and provide a most extraordinary viewing experience. 

- Andrew Kotwicki