Friday, March 14, 2014

Review of True Detective: Engaging Dark Core of an Intelligent Show

‘True Detective’ tells a complicated grisly crime story with details, very good acting and atmospherics. It seems that this- straight forward story telling of a spectacular crime, is reason enough to catapult the star-studded HBO show  to stratospheric heights of popularity.  But that is not the only reason for this to be an outstanding show. It has a strong subject matter depicted with gritty control over the narrative. Presence of the ‘two masters of laconic’ Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey has knitted the story in the overall aura of excellence.
Top notch performances by McConaughey and Harrelson are the key pleasure of this very enjoyable show. McConaughey, who is in the sweet spot of creative and professional resurgence has hogged the limelight. In fact, singular in the title is for him. He has given a great performance- taught and good to watch. He remained clued into the ruined grandeur of his character. In both young and later part he managed to convey the anguish of a damaged soul which is aware enough of grasp the horror of its own decay. This doomed intelligence and doggedness that was sure if righteousness got beautifully showcased in the star persona of a great actor. But my vote goes to that magnificent creep, Woody Harrelson. He was not transferring a one-dimensional trauma but a whole array of sensibilities. He was flawed in a much more nuanced way. His Marty is far more layered in conveying the real fault lines of an inherently decent man prone to envy and adultery. He had to convey decency while playing second fiddle, not a particularly difficult task. Dr Watson in his many avatars has done it manfully over the years. But here Marty has to create story by being a force rather than a prop. The bromance or buddy angle apart he is not in awe of McConaughey’s Cohle. He does not have the ultimate clutch of loyalty card. He is there as player not as a sidekick. He, unlike Cohle, is not functioning with a given tune of tormented philosopher. He is being equally impactful in more mundane mantle. In the absence of showy props (tragic back story, ruined look, past as soul-shattering undercover agent) his spectacular performance gets more weight. 
Despite dealing with universal themes, ‘True Detective’ has a provincial core. It is not easily accessible to a non-American. Louisiana landscape and accented monologue will need a second viewing for a person like me to get the full flavor. However genius of the show is clear. This is a highly moody and individualistic take on a conventional hunt of a murderer by two detectives who, despite their damaged selves, retain a true passion to fight the darkness of crime. The plot is simple. ‘True Detective’ follows the Louisiana State Police detectives Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) as they investigate a series of occult-based sex murders in the course of seventeen years. Smattering of occult references and nuanced deflecting of suspicion have kept the cyberspace abuzz with the discussion about the series.   A good cultural product is supposed to create discussion and disagreement. Here we have plenty.
There are sequences which stand out. Six minute long take in action sequence at the end of episode four has been rated  ‘worthy of Scorsese.’  Final episode had the climax that was very creepy and gave a fitting finale to the sickness that pervaded throughout the series. Family scenes, interrogations, bonding sequences, chases etc fitted in the whole that the creator planned for them. 
However, I liked many other shows better, particularly from UK and Scandinavia.  May be ‘True Detective’  is  getting more attention due to the pop philosophical air that it managed to gather, big banner and heavyweight starcast. The show is smart enough to avoid spoofs that such ultra serious pieces evoke so easily. May be not smart enough, as The New Yorker has taken upon itself to find what is funny and ‘hot air’ in the show. Truth be told, I am slightly wary of the critics who start with a gender angle, which might be very important in itself but of a limited value as a device for an objective review. On a different level, deep understanding may often deprive you of simple pleasures. It may lead to compulsive spoofing without appreciation of the good elements. That said, ‘True Detective’ is superlative TV and pushes the envelope in many departments of the genre. Clichés will be there, that is why we go back to a genre. ‘True Detective’ does a splendid job of presenting those clichés in an entertainingly intelligent way. 
-Dhiraj Singh

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