Review by Sean Boelman
Love him or hate him, Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn makes some of the most heavily-stylized movies there are. Unfortunately, his newest work — the streaming series Copenhagen Cowboy — has nothing going for it other than the filmmaker’s signature style, making it an entirely unpleasant watch.
The series tells the story of a young woman who travels through the criminal underworld of Copenhagen. Although NWR is beloved (or notorious, depending on your tastes) for making movies that are style-over-substance, Copenhagen Cowboy takes that to the extreme with a storyline that is shallow and often just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
With six episodes that are around fifty minutes each, the series is shorter than the filmmaker’s last streaming outing, but it’s still a less-than-satisfying way to spend four hours. There are some bursts of action here and there that give it a bit of added energy, but it’s mostly just really boring.
There is also the issue of the show’s symbolism which, in addition to being underdeveloped, is thoroughly inconsistent. For example, the first few episodes rely heavily on imagery and symbolism involving pigs, and this never comes full circle into anything meaningful or satisfying. The show is filled with these half-baked ideas.
The single biggest flaw of this series — and there are many — is the lack of character development. NWR is no stranger to having protagonists with mysterious backgrounds, but there’s usually something to make them compelling. Although the situation in which the character finds herself is very tragic, it alone is not enough to create a strong connection from the audience.
Angela Bundalovic tries her hardest as the series protagonist, but she just doesn’t have what it takes to be an action heroine. A big part of it might be the writing, which has her just aimlessly wandering through many of the scenes with a blank stare, but she lacks both charisma and intrigue — and one of those characteristics would have been necessary to make this work.
That being said, the visual style of the series is off-the-wall, just as one would expect from NWR. It’s drenched in neon colors, with cinematography that is wild and crazy and production design that’s a ton of fun to look at. It’s all excessive and ridiculous, but this is precisely what fans have come to love about NWR’s neo-noir approach.
Copenhagen Cowboy represents the worst tendencies of Nicolas Winding Refn as a filmmaker magnified to an excessive level. It’s almost like it was made by a film student trying to ape his style — which is damning considering that it is actually made by him.
Copenhagen Cowboy streams on Netflix beginning January 5. All six episodes reviewed.