Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of Nicolas Winding Refn‘s incredible crime series Too Old to Die Young, which is one of the best things Amazon has ever released, and yet, so few have actually seen it. Thankfully, shows don’t come with an expiration date, so even though what little cultural conversation there was around TOTDY has long since moved on, the show is still available to watch on the streaming service. Just use that ‘search’ function, because lord knows you won’t find it on any homepage.
There are a lot of good shows to watch right now, but we’re in the midst of a pandemic — yes, still — so I know you’ve got the time to take some programming risks. I mean, if not now, then when? Too Old to Die Young won’t be for everyone. In fact, you’ll probably love it or hate it. You’ll either find it riveting, or incredibly boring. Both are fair descriptors. But at least then, you will have given this epic series a chance, something that Amazon didn’t even do, as the streamer always seemed to treat it like a mistake it was embarrassed by.
I’m not here to rehash the streamer’s missed opportunity, though. I’m here to give you 10 reasons why Too Old to Die Young is worth watching, one year after its quiet debut. So buckle up, buttercup, because this ride is about to get bumpy.
1. The Soundtrack
Yeah, this is probably the top reason to watch TOTDY, because the original score by Cliff Martinez is absolutely divine. He’s the composer behind Refn’s Drive, Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon, and his work here is intense and other-worldly — the perfect companion to the lush visuals on display. While the angelic bliss of “Viggo and Diana” is probably the standout of the soundtrack, the original teaser trailer for this series was set to Martinez’s “Hennessy X.O. Is an Odyssey,” and for some reason I always hear that track in my head when I think of this series. It may have the same effect on you, so click here to give it a listen, or scroll to the bottom of this post for the official TOTDY trailer to get a sample of the show’s unique aural landscape.
2. Cristina Rodlo and Augusto Aguilar
These two actors absolutely blew me away, and casting directors should be keeping a close eye on both of them. Aguilar plays Jesus, the nephew of a Mexican cartel leader named Don Ricardo (Emiliano Diez) who is terminally ill. Don Ricardo sees his late sister Magdaleno in both her son and his own nurse, Yaritza (Rodlo), who the crime boss claims to have found in the desert. Do either of them know who’s behind a string of vigilante killings that has cartel members spooked, and turning on the police they pay to protect them? Rodlo’s raw energy radiates off the screen and you can sense there’s something dangerous about her, almost like the scorpion that graced the back of Ryan Gosling‘s jacket in Drive. Meanwhile, Aguilar does a stellar job balancing Jesus’ innate sensitivity with his revenge-driven ruthlessness. Both of them are major finds, and I hope they get more opportunities when Life is able to resume production.
3. The Cinematography
Darius Khondji shot half of the TOTDY episodes, while rising star Diego Garcia shot the other half, and any way you slice it with a samurai sword, this is a gorgeous series. In conjunction with Refn’s own, shall we say, darker creative instincts, Khondji and Garcia create their own colorful language onscreen, and different hues of neon really popped on my home TV. There are long stretches of this show without any dialogue, so a strong visual sense is important, and there’s no question that TOTDY delivers in that regard. Garcia previously shot Apichatpong Weerasethakul‘s Cemetery of Splendor, and he has since gone on to shoot Michael Mann‘s HBO Max series Tokyo Vice starring Ansel Elgort. Meanwhile, Khondji shot Se7en and Panic Room for director David Fincher, and I really don’t think I need to say anything more than that. There’s stunning work in every episode.
4. Miles Teller and his Immediate Co-stars
Teller is an actor with impressive range, who can be very sensitive and internal when necessary (Rabbit Hole) or a loud-mouth party bro (21 & Over, Project X, etc). Here, he’s almost supernaturally quiet as the enigma that is Detective Martin Jones.
Jones’ moral compass is off — that much is clear from the very first episode — but Teller still makes us root for this bastard, who, by the way, has a girlfriend in high school. That’s right… this cop is, technically, a sexual predator. So we know right off the bat that Refn isn’t too interested in making Martin a likable guy. Nell Tiger Free is excellent as Martin’s underage girlfriend Janey, and I loved Hart Bochner as his wacky lieutenant. Lance Gross is terrifying in his brief screentime as Martin’s partner, and I appreciated supporting turns from both Joanna Cassidy and Callie Hernandez. That said, some of my favorite scenes in this scenes involved the LA crime boss Damian (Babs Olusanmokun) and his right-hand man Celestino (Celestino Cornielle), who work out of a hockey rink, and keep Martin on the payroll to do various jobs — jobs that become increasingly dangerous as the show unfolds.
5. The Pacing
I’m not going to lie, Too Old to Die Young is pretty, pretty, pretty slow. It’s almost comical how often characters seem to wait 15 seconds between sentences. But once you get on the show’s level and in touch with its strange rhythms, I think you’ll get a lot more out of it. You simply have to know going in that TOTDY is not paced like a traditional TV series, so consider this fair warning. The cliffhangers are few and far between, and yet there’s something oddly bingeable about this 758-minute series. While the finale runs a lean 31 minutes, there are three episodes over 90 minutes long, but time seems to slow down while watching this show, so you’ll likely be too entranced to notice the elongated running times. Could this show have used a heavy edit? Possibly. But you’ll be glad Refn let it breathe, because the anxiety can be a bit much.
6. John Hawkes and Jena Malone
Hawkes plays Viggo Larsen, a one-eyed former cop turned vigilante who hunts criminals and predators in our midst using information fed to him by Malone’s Diana DeYoung, a city social worker who tries to right the wrongs she sees every day. Viggo may be undergoing dialysis treatments, but he still serves as Diana’s loyal protector who does her bidding without question, Hawkes and Malone have a unique chemistry together and each of them proves why they’re among Life’s top character actors. These two aren’t the stars of the show, but you won’t be able to take their eyes off of them when either is onscreen.
7. The Story
Too Old to Die Young was co-created by Refn and acclaimed comic book writer Ed Brubaker, whose comic books Criminal, as well as Kill or Be Killed are awesome. The story of Too Old to Die Young is pretty damn good itself, but it’s more about the journey than the destination. Personally, I’m fascinated by crooked cops, and enjoyed watching Teller’s character suffer an existential crisis as he delves deeper into the deadly underground of Los Angeles, where Refn seems most at home. Sometimes, it takes an outsider to capture a certain vibe in America, and I appreciate Refn’s demented instincts as a storyteller.
8. The Violence
No sugarcoating: Too Old to Die Young is spectacularly violent. See, the cartel doesn’t mind torturing those who stand in its way, while Teller and Hawkes’ characters are hardly prudes themselves. So, by the end of this series, there are entire rooms left covered in blood. It can get graphic. There are several wild shootouts from assassins on motorbikes, and Damian is pretty handy with a piece himself. Even when this show isn’t reveling in violence, the sudden threat of violence lurks around every corner. It’s typically brief and explicit, and trust me, no one is spared from its far-reaching hand. And yet, as is often the case with Refn, there’s something beautiful and oddly poetic about the violence in TOTDY. It’s hard to explain, so you’ll just have to see it for yourself.
9. William Baldwin
Billy Baldwin, he of Backdraft and Flatliners fame, plays the father of Teller’s high school-aged girlfriend, and I would watch an entire series that was just about this guy. He’s unconscionably wealthy, and he has a sniffing tic (shared by my father and I) that is the kind of off-putting character choice that this series would naturally relish. At one point, Baldwin’s Theo masturbates in his home theater as Martin sits in the row behind him… Listen, there’s a lot of strange shit that takes place in Too Old to Die Young, but this character may very well be the strangest, which is saying something. God bless Billy Baldwin, though, for agreeing to “go there” in the first place. His commitment is both noted and appreciated.
10. The Porn Scene
If you want to know what you’re getting yourself into with TOTDY, I suggest you simply start with Episode 5, and if you have no interest in proceeding after the first seven minutes, then I wouldn’t blame you one bit. If you can stomach that scene, you may be the kind of twisted viewer who Refn is aiming for. James Urbaniak (Difficult People) plays a pornographer who directs a young newcomer and asks him some very graphic questions. The menacing stillness of the actors behind Urbaniak is part of what makes the scene so terrifying, and the actor playing the scene’s victim, so to speak, is incredible, communicating his true feelings with just his eyes and body language even though his mouth and writing hand consent to everything that happens. This scene is not for the faint of heart, so if it’s not for you, the series may not be either.
Watch Amazon’s official trailer for Too Old to Die Young below, and if you’re interested in a different perspective, click here for our formal review, which calls the series “brilliant but tedious.” You can also click here for our interview with Refn, whose process is always fascinating.