When Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey made the deliriously comedic Edtv together in 1999, I would find it hard to imagine they would be tag teaming in HBO’s darkly brilliant 8 hour miniseries True Detective over 13 years later. Then again, each actor had taken chances by then in addition to their well-known comfort zones. Woody didn’t stray too far from his weirdo humor except for random occasions like Natural Born Killers and The People Versus Larry Flynt(both involving a heavy dose of dark humor). McConaughey flirted with his demons in Frailty and Lone Star.
Trust me when I say that each actor is on a completely different level here. Their work on this show tells you how much of a roll they have been on in recent years. Playing a pair of detectives investigating a gruesome crime in 1995 while they tell modern investigators about their methods in present day, the two actors are spellbindingly flawless in their roles.
Creator and writer Nick Pizzalatto frames the 8 hours around these two cops and their personal lives. Martin Hart (Harrelson) is a deeply flawed man with a wife and kids yet is slowly crumbling under the weight of infidelity and nerves that are nearly fried. McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is the polar opposite, a spiritual outcast who gives new meaning to the word eccentric and practices methods other detectives find creepy and uncomfortable.
Watching these two work with each other and get lost inside these deeply layered roles, a viewer is taken aback at what they are watching. Are these the same guys who wasted a decent part of their career playing softball instead of spending more time in the A List pro class? It’s a marvel to partake in every single hour.
The crime is simple. A serial killer leaves a murdered woman in a manner that is unorthodox and hinges from a sacrificial nature. It sets off a manhunt that leads the two detectives through the scummy cracks of New Orleans and its decrepit souls. Pizzalatto wisely makes the focus of this series on the men and not the case. The hours sweep between a present day Rust (who looks like a cracked up gypsy, long hair and mustache) and a more cleaned up Martin before going back to the original story.
It is clear these two men drifted apart after the crime was solved. The bigger question with this story is why the modern cops want to talk to these two men and see what they did and why so many years ago. By the end of the pilot, you know why that is and where the story is truly going. The brilliant thing about this show is how deeply enriched the characters are.
The supporting cast is excellent, with Michelle Monaghan tearing into the role of Martin’s beleaguered wife and Kevin Dunn as the men’s police chief. Michael Potts and Tory Kittles are solid as the two cops questioning the older men. The series belongs to the two leads, because they tear into their on screen personas every week in different ways. McConaughey and Harrelson give ferocious performances that keep you guessing until the final minute. Who explodes and why?
True Detective does a good job of keeping you off balance throughout the series but holding your attention. Every time you think you have it figured out, something happens and the show flips on its side. The series isn’t afraid to be gritty, dark and something entirely different. It’s almost as if the writers, directors and creators watched every procedural on network television and made a vow to not make this show like that. The Wire and Silence Of The Lambs comes to mind on first glance and eventually a little bit of Seven starts to creep into the room.
The idea for this series is that every year will feature a different story and cast, and that only makes this fan get more excited to see how this story wraps up. Will Rust and Martin get put on the new case and come together to solve another crime? Will Rust turn out to be involved in the new crime? True Detective promises nothing pretty, neat, noble, or satisfying. With a tag line of “Man Is the Cruelest Animal” and two main characters with nothing but troubled paths, the show doesn’t promise any light at the end of the tunnel.
That is refreshing if you ask me. A bold show that makes a point to look as far into the abyss as possible before pulling back to remind the audience this isn’t entirely a work of fiction.
It’s about the toll that every cop carries as they chase the demons inside their head and the evil souls who roam the earth. As Rust informs Martin, “The world needs bad men like us to keep the other bad men from the door.” It is a true experience to watch McConaughey and Harrelson go for broke and give possibly their most in depth performances and impressive performances to date. Sure, each have been nominated for Oscars, but those were for playing real people. While that’s nothing to think less about, their work on this HBO masterpiece is truly something else entirely.
With two hours left to wrap up the story, Pizzolatto’s tale is definitely going to leave a mark and the two lead actors are the reason for it. Together, they manage to make “deep and dark” despair seem cool, intriguing and oddly inviting on a weekly basis. If darkness truly becomes you in this world, then you can count me in every time.