REVIEW: True Detective Season One (2014) – ManlyMovie

REVIEW: True Detective Season One (2014)

Runtime: 360 Mins
Rated: TV-MA

What To Expect: Class actors working from class writing

As mentioned in our recent editorial on the growing value of TV, if you’ve had enough of what modern cinema is turning into, TV seems to be an increasingly attractive retreat for something meatier to chew on. Just as there was life in the old TV after The Sopranos with Breaking Bad, it just goes to show that there’s life in the old TV after Breaking Bad too.  True Detective has been, probably, the best TV show of 2014 (and that’s coming out ahead of a strong lineup in itself).  It’s a return to the thoughtful character-driven yarn we’d probably almost forgotten was possible.

For those who have missed it, True Detective is and uses multiple timelines to trace two Louisiana State Police Criminal Investigations Division homicide detectives’ (Woody Harrelson/Matthew McConaughey) hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana across seventeen years.  Featured heavily is an occult slant with strong insinuations of institutionalized covering up. 

True Detective is almost a landmark feature as far as restrained yet gripping writing goes.  And that owes a lot to the series being an anthology, as in season two will bare no relation to season three and so forth.  This gives the writers freedom to tell a real story.  They aren’t contracted to lay groundwork for season two at the expense of season one.  They are free to create a static beginning, middle and ending over seven or eight hours.  For we viewers, it’s all win.  The TV series ‘Lost’ is an example of the opposite, where each season from three onwards was a literal mess.  A dogs dinner where the writers wrote themselves into a corner under immense studio pressure.  That’s not the case here, once Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey signed off for season one, that was it.  End of story.

Speaking of those two, being box office stars they are an attraction and fun to watch.  But it’s also clear what has attracted them to this material.  It’s an opportunity to revel in some art, this is the kind of thing you don’t see much of in Hollywood these days, especially when constricted to a two hour movie.  Some will argue over who actually puts in the better performance. McConaughey’s big-city troubled Rusty with elevated talk or Harrelson’s simpler country boy, with contempt for the latter’s idioms.  Matthew McConaughey gets the better role but I think Harrelson’s performance is slightly more grounded.  Although McConaughey does nail it with his perfectly written final scenes.

It’s part Se7en (1995), it’s part The Wire, but it’s all quality with no drowsiness.  Roll on season two…