It’s official, TV has officially killed cinema. It was theorised that cinema would destroy traditional theatre when the medium first emerged but we all know how that turned out. The same could be said for TV which first reached the mainstream household in the 50s (although decades later in South Africa) which never managed to be the apocalypse that cinema pundits had anticipated…until now that is. Whereas cinema has fallen into the trap of conventional and predictable blockbuster fodder, true experimentation and risk has been relegated to the small screen, and True Detective (among other shows) has displayed how triple-A silver screen talent can find a home in a more humble environment such as your living room.
Detective Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) is a conservative, by-the-books lawman who is joined by Detective Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) – perhaps the antithesis of Hart – to investigate the brutal murder of a local mystery woman. The murder mystery takes place over 17 years and sees the evolution of the relationship between Rust and Marty as the crime tests the wits and resolve of the investigators.
The Bottom Line
True Detective is as much about the characters as it is about the story. I’m sure that some planets must have aligned to get the dream team of Harrelson and McConaughey into this production as they are without a doubt the soul of this series and in a bizarre twist of fate seem to be playing the opposite of their real life characters. Harrelson is known for his rebellious and anarchistic ideologies, plays the role of Marty Hart, a diligent career man who plays by the rules and McConaughey who hasn’t been shy in sharing his religious views or his sociable nature takes on the role of a brooding, nihilistic philosopher with a self-destructive streak – it couldn’t be more contrary yet it simultaneously happens to be the perfect recipe for success.
Even though our two main men take centre stage, one cannot deny the story, which at only 8 episodes long is brief but satisfyingly disturbing from start to finish. The plot unfold in two seperate time frames, the one being in the early 90s when Hart and Cohle are first assigned to the case of a brutally mutilated female corpse; the other plot is set 17 years later and focusses on a police interrogation of the original detectives, now older and no longer in the service of the police, as they are probed into the infamous murder. The interrogation lays the foundation for the past events and feels organic, building a tangible suspense and mystery as to what transpired.
This isn’t a one track story though as we dive into the personal lives of Hart and Cohle, explore every facet of their characters, and live the tension between these two very different men. In many ways, the case can feel like an after thought as the writers give precedence to these deep character studies and expertly craft the tension between them. It’s gritty, dark, and at times a tough pill to swallow, but never fails to hold the viewers attention even when the plot explores the madness within the tragedy.
The high point of the series for me was McConaughey’s moments where he offers an analytical insight into his current state of mind – at times he reminds me of Spock when he goes on a tangent with his superior Vulcan sensibilities, but Rust’s memorable meanderings are grim, psychologically testing, cathartic, and at times self-deprecating.
Nothing too extravagant, as we have come to expect from DVD releases of TV series. You can expect the usual deleted scenes, audio commentary, ‘making of” featurettes, and a couple of behind the scene goodies. Overall, it’s what could be considered the bare minimum and for a series like this, it’s hard to ask for more.
True Detective is yet another milestone in the list of high-profile TV series that are calling out Hollywood. The series is a haunting look at a silver screen duo that will make you wish that the series was longer than 8 episodes, but even at that modest figure, its some of the best that TV (and by that fact, Hollywood) has to offer. The series is an unforgiving mashup of existential monolgues, brutal crime scenes, and top-notch procedural drama – True Detective deserves a place in your collection simply for going against the tide.