True Detective is a new mini-series anthology from HBO that will have each season following a new crime and cast and the first season is, seemingly, setting a very high bar for future endeavors. Set in Louisiana over the course of many years, starting in 1995, the season is written by Nic Pizzolatto, directed by Cary Fukunaga and stars Woody Harrelson & Matthew McConaughey.
This premiere episode, The Long Bright Dark, does an excellent job of introducing us to this world, the case and the characters; setting the season up on a tee to move forward on. A grisly murder scene with occultist messages would be a strange case for any hero, but add in a crown of antlers and the first real instance of working with your new partner and you are bound to find out some things you didn’t expect to know about one another. McConaughey plays Rust Cohle, an insomniac whose interests are a bit off for the deep south, while Harrelson plays the more traditional detective in Martin Hart, who has a family to worry about and a job to keep secure. The two’s relationship is respectful, but contentious, and the two instantly have a dynamic that is compelling almost immediately. The premiere gives us so many interesting threads to grab on to in both of their lives and I can’t wait to see them unravel in the coming weeks.
McConaughey in particular really stands out in the cast, as Cohle is a character filled with mystery and intrigue. The story is being told in flashback through police interviews of Cohle and Hart and the physical and emotional change we see that has occurred to Cohle over the 17 years gives McConaughey such a rich template to play with. The dark humor running between him and Harrelson is also perfectly placed throughout the episode and I can’t wait to see these two spar over the next few weeks.
The way that Fukunaga uses the framing device to slowly inform the plot also works great and as the episode reveals its final hook, the killer was apparently caught, yet seemingly still out there after a recent, similar murder you won’t want to wait till next week to find out what happens next. The mystery is evenly shared with the characters in the premiere and both are just as compelling as the episode unfolds.
Blending the crime with character is all one can ask for and you must applaud the shows ability to do so without going over the top to hook you into either element. The vibe of the show is grounded and if you are a fan of David Fincher’s crime based films (especially Zodiac) I think you will feel right at home here. That’s not to say Fukunaga isn’t an impressive talent on his own, far from it, as he delivers plenty of flash with his direction as you would expect from his previous work. Fukunaga is someone I have looked forward to breaking out ever since his debut, Sin Nombre, and while I can’t wait to see his next film, these eight episodes seem like they are going to be a joy to watch him show off his talents.
Compelling characters, great performances, an engaging mystery and the promise of some sort of resolution in seven weeks makes True Detective an easy recommendation. McConaughey is in the prime of his career right now and getting to watch him, with a character like this, for the next few weeks are a gift that will keep on giving. The crime elements are secondary in importance to me, but I was engaged with every step of the investigation. I look forward to finding out what happens next just as much as I wish to see more of these characters and when you have a combination like that you can’t afford to miss True Detective.