True Detective / Michele K. Short/HBO

True Detective / Michele K. Short/HBO

By now a fair number of you will have read or heard the hype about HBO’s latest series, True Detective, which concludes this Sunday at 9pm. Here’s the thing you need to know. True Detective isn’t as good as the hype; it’s better.

Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson can start polishing up their acceptance speeches for the awards that are about to come their way and, if there is any justice, so too will director Cary Joji Fukunaga.

Set in Louisiana True Detective tells over eight one-hour episodes the story of two detectives, Rust Cohle and Martin Hart, and their search for a serial killer, or killers, across 17 years from 1995 to 2012.  McConaughey as Cohle and Harrelson as Hart are just ridiculously good even if the latter has fallen into a tendency to over use his jutted jaw performance.

The past year has been something of a renaissance for McConaughey first with the critical success of the Dallas Buyers Club for which the actor won a Best Actor Oscar last Sunday at the Academy Awards and secondly with his portrayal of one seriously messed up cop in True Detective. And somewhat ironically it wasn’t as if the actor had gone away, but rather despite some quality performances and critical acclaim the accolade of being named People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2005 had clouded general perception.

Harrelson on the other hand is an actor I find somewhat curious. I’m not sure you’d list him in the Top 100 film actors in the US, never mind the world and yet as a performer the former Cheers star has won a Prime Time Emmy, been nominated for an Academy Award as a Best Actor and received multiple Golden Globe nominations. Here Harrelson’s Martin Hart is even more messed up that McConaughey’s Cohle as the two fight their respective demons.

Fukunaga at age 36 looks like a future Best Director Oscar winner at the Academy Awards should he keep his career arc on track. I’m a viewer, not a connoisseur of the finer points of film directing, but there are shots in True Detective that take your breath away. The most obvious is the six-minute continuous tracking shot that ends episode four of the show, the one that had the fans of same geeking out online. But there are others sprinkled throughout the show such as the time the camera moved slowly over Cohle’s shoulder to reveal the case notes spread out in front of him or the angle of the shot as the detectives’ car drives up on a wooden pier. This is a Director to watch.

True Detective starts with one of the best choices for a theme music that I can ever recall. Television and Film themes are something of a passion of mine and there has been a disappointing lack of quality in recent years. However the theme composed for a House of Cards on Netflix recently entered my own personal list of Top 50 television themes and T Bone Burnett’s selection of Far From Any Road by the Handsome Family for True Detective might well jump into my Top 10. Reminiscent of Johnny Cash, the song is actually from a 10-year old album and yet it sets the tone of the series beautifully. It has been a long time since I stopped the first episode of a show and went back to the beginning to hear the opening theme, but I did in this case.

Michelle Monaghan has the thankless task of playing Hart’s long-suffering wife, Maggie. The former Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang and Mission Impossible III actress is great when she shows up on the screen. I’ve seen comments online suggesting that Maggie should have been a bigger role, but this is a show about Cohle and Hart and the train wreck that is their life and careers around the case. Given the material, Monaghan is excellent especially when taking control of her circumstances.

Rated 16 by HBO to indicate that some material may be inappropriate for kids 16 and under, I’d add the specific observation that there are sex scenes that would seem more appropriate with a stronger warning. HBO and Comcast subscribers can watch all previous episodes online prior to Sunday’s conclusion. If you haven’t already found True Detective, I strongly suggest you binge watch over the weekend before the finale. This is a wonderful show.


– Wallace Poulter 

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