Angela Bundalovic gives a largely one-note (intentionally) performance as Miu, the stone-faced hero of this journey into the criminal underworld. She doesn’t talk much, smile much, or do much. In fact, Refn is content for large chunks of “Copenhagen Cowboy” to merely linger on her unexpressive face as things happen around her. Her character expands as required later in the series by the story, but she’s such a blank slate for so long that it drains any potential momentum. Refn and writers Sara Isabella Johnson, Johanne Algren, and Mona Masri even give the blue tracksuit-wearing heroine a bit of a supernatural tinge as she’s introduced as a literal good luck charm purchased by a woman who wants to get pregnant and believes she has the power to make that happen. Other than a few fight scenes, Miu exists on a different plane from what’s happening around her, a daring narrative choice but one that doesn’t fit with Refn’s style, which can already feel detached and is now even one step further removed from reality. It wouldn’t be surprising if Miu just disappeared in a scene or shot lasers from her dead eyes because there’s no internal monologue or reason to the character, which becomes a bit exhausting.
“Copenhagen Cowboy” opens with Miu being sold to the aforementioned woman who wants a child. She runs an underground brothel dominated by violence. Throughout Miu’s adventures in the Copenhagen underworld, Refn comments on man’s base instincts, often comparing them to animals. When an underling is beaten, the audio mix switches to pig sounds for his pained squeals. The father of a vicious killer can’t stop talking about his prick, even asking Miu if he wants to see the “cultural asset” between his legs. There’s a sense that “Copenhagen Cowboy” is Refn taking his macho male archetype hero and seeing what happens with a gender swap, but he doesn’t dig far enough into that idea. Most of the ideas in “Copenhagen Cowboy” are underdeveloped, and Refn is repeating more than he is reinventing.
He’s also repeating stylistically, washing “Copenhagen Cowboy” in bright neon blues and reds. Working with cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jonck, Refn takes a languid approach to visual storytelling, allowing his camera to slowly circle a largely empty room until it almost stumbles on a composition. Refn has reportedly revealed that the title has nothing to do with this weird, hollow show and that he just liked the sound of the two words he chose before he even started writing. That process seems to capture the depth of this entire project, one that plays with a lot of interesting elements but has so little fun doing so.