True Detective review McConaughey and Harrelson are on top form in gripping HBO series

Posted on 17 March 2014
By Craig Kell
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While us Brits are halfway through with HBO’s gritty crime-series True Detective, American audiences are still reflecting on everything that happened after it reached its much-hyped conclusion last week.

Throughout this dark and compelling series, creator Nic Pizzolato and director Cary Fukunaga have kept people hooked on the events building up to the final reveal with many trying to work out how it was all going to end.

But looking back on the previous seven episodes, the show has managed to receive universal acclaim from critics for its intriguing narrative and even managed to land near-perfect ratings on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes.

The season opener ‘The Long Bright Dark’ is able to incorporate the haunting elements that were expected for this kind of programme with its grim opening scene of our two detectives judging the scene of the crime.

This is made more fascinating by the clever use of an interview-to-camera structure for the modern-day scenes of Rust Cohle and Martin Hart being quizzed by other detectives.

This kind of technique enables us to understand the problems that these two troubled men have gone through during their long partnership.

Although some elements of True Detective rely on familiar traits of other crime shows like anti-hero cops and flawed investigations, you come to realise after a couple of outings that it delves deep into a murky world inhabited by human ‘monsters’.

Throughout each episode, we see the case unfold through various angles as the show jumps between different timelines in order to pinpoint the events leading up the present era.

The revelations and twists are placed carefully and never lose focus from the plot especially when it all came down to the bold finale.

Many different theories were predicted by audiences about who the killer was which ranged from relatives of the detectives to corrupt officials.

In the final episode ‘Form and Void’, it all unfolded in a simple manner that still kept us on the edge of our seats as we watched our leading men confront their target in a pulsating showdown at one of the worst places imaginable.

Pizzalato always said that it was never about who the killer was, but more about the actual detectives themselves and their quest to find redemption through each other.

That is why the creator’s castings of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson prove to be a unique masterstroke with both actors producing some of the best work of their respective careers.

Revelling from his recent Oscar-winning success with Dallas Buyers Club, McConaughey is simply masterful as the tortured Rust Cohle.

While he may come across as a bit eccentric, his in-depth monologues and random observations about the human race captivate the audience and keep us hooked on him throughout.

In contrast, Harrelson’s conflicted portrayal of Martin Hart is more subtle but he still engages us with his insecure attitude even though we root for him and Rust to solve the case.

While it may be a two-man show, other cast members get a chance to shine with Michelle Monaghan showing her emotional capability as Hart’s wife while Boardwalk Empire duo Shea Whigham and the terrifying Glenn Flesher deliver in their brief roles.

A final aspect that deserves recognition is the excellent visual style that stays consistent throughout the series.

Oscar-winner T-Bone Burnett creates a haunting musical score that is enhanced further by the majestic use of The Handsome Family’s ‘Far From Any Road’ in the stunning opening credits.

Also worthy of credit is cinematographer Adam Arkapaw as he not only captures the noirish setting of Louisiana to perfection but also produces exceptional work when shooting some of the more gripping scenes.

The best example of this comes in the fourth episode ‘Who Goes There’ which ends with a breathtaking six-minute tracking shot that involves Rust attempting to wrestle a hostage out of an intense shootout in a ghetto neighbourhood.

Moments like these show why people are more glued to television these days!

But while True Detective is worthy of its excellent reviews, it still remains flawed by occasional lapses in its slow-paced plot and certain stereotypical characters.

It is a show that requires a lot of attention from viewers particularly when it comes to the talkier scenes that can potentially lead to boredom for those who aren’t as invested.

This is why the finale itself is likely to cause frustration for those who stick with it as the actual twist isn’t what some of us would expect especially after all the speculation made beforehand.

While other hit shows like Breaking Bad and The Sopranos worked well with their endings, there are bound to be a few people who won’t appreciate the conclusion for this one.

The focus on both leading men also means that other key characters are reduced to one-note roles.

Michael Potts and Tory Kittles both fail to grab our attention as the two modern day cops investigating Cohle and Hart with neither being given any background other than to interrogate the two men.

Aside from the more complex Maggie (Hart’s wife), the other female characters are mostly depicted as demeaning individuals such as strippers and prostitutes.

Even the lovely Alexandra Daddario is reduced to a thankless role as Hart’s sexy mistress and ends up being a home-wrecker in the process before disappearing within a couple of episodes.

But although the conclusion will be hit and miss to some, True Detective is a fascinating watch strengthened further by career-best performances from McConaughey and Harrelson. Series 2 has a hard act to follow!