Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Self-aware, hazy 'True Detective'

(March 21, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

True Detective,” the much-discussed new HBO Original series, recently wrapped up, concluding creator-writer Nico Pizzolatto’s first gritty and alluring crime baffler. (A “True Detective” marathon will air on HBO Signature on March 30, from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.)

In the series, Louisiana detectives investigate a bizarre murder, uncovering many long-hidden and disturbing truths about its underbelly. Starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as uneasy partners Rust Cohle and Martin Hart, respectively, it also wisely zeroes in on these protagonists’ toxic frailties.

Swirling with smoky visuals and a perpetually foreboding atmosphere, the series routinely flashes back to the puzzle-solving scenes from 1995, when Detectives Cohle and Hart started working together on the case. The scenes are narrated over by their older (2012) selves during separate police interviews; the ex-cops are called in to elaborate on the closed case, as a possible copycat has surfaced with a penchant for similarly styled atrocities.

The eight-episode series inveigles from the outset with its tight melding of indelible visuals and strong characterization. Cohle is immediately introduced as a disarming enigma: His younger and older versions are seemingly at odds at first, but once the old stories fill the gap (and there are details that flesh him out exceedingly), it’s easy to reconcile the calm, self-aware pessimist with his more haggard, world-weary self.

McConaughey is remarkable as Rust Cohle from the get-go; the character is an obsessive investigator who occasionally unleashes thought-provoking critiques on religion, and even roughs up lowlifes behind his partner’s back to get answers. Cohle’s unrestrained snark and hazy dealings with shady figures keep him unpredictable, and McConaughey is fully committed to bringing him to life.

Harrelson as the “simpler” cop understandably has less bombastic scenarios, but the actor is no pushover. He gets to shine—a lot!—as Martin Hart, who blames his work for “changing” him, claiming that it has led to unavoidable indiscretions. The flawed family man character is the perfect foil to the quirky Cohle, their love-hate relationship a solid and appealing dynamic.

As for the murder mystery itself, it is sturdily executed, but it comes off as hodgepodge and too contrived at times—perhaps the much-missed “Dexter” spoiled us with snappier crime-solving techniques and myriad jaunts to the psyches of serial killers that the “True Detective” mystery seems a tad simple and considerably less-immersing now. Still, most of the answers make sense, if less grand than expected.

The series will have a second season, according to reports, but will introduce a new crime mystery and will not feature the same characters and actors. It has big shoes to fill; the initial season of “True Detective,” while it has uneven pacing and has its share of storytelling flaws, massively explores its characters while inquisitively raising existential points. It is supported immensely by fine acting and fantastic imagery, a winning combination that makes it hauntingly memorable.

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