(Three of) 5 Things We Learned From 'True Detective'



1. The McConnaissance has officially hit its peak. (Yassssssssssssssss)

It's now belaboring the obvious to state that Matthew McConaughey has morphed into one of the most interesting actors working today — an unpredictable phenomenon that we can carbon-date back to 2011 and his Rockford Files-esque turn in The Lincoln Lawyer. His career-resurgence modus operandi was simple: kiss off the typical leading-man roles that were slowly suffocating him and go moody (Mud), dowdy (Bernie), psycho-ugly (Killer Joe), or campy, where-are-my-bongos batshit-crazy (The Paperboy). Where once his two modes were open-shirted or altogether shirtless, McConaughey started to explore how far he could take things to the outer limits, performing jujitsu on his sex-symbol image with Magic Mike and scaling his beefcake physique down to scary, beef-jerky emaciation for Dallas Buyers Club. (As for his motormouthed cameo in The Wolf of Wall Street, the whole sequence now seems like a dry run for the glorious cosmic slop of his Oscar acceptance speech.)


But with True Detective, McConaughey has not only delivered what's arguably his best work; he's crafted a performance that's both drawn from and built on all of these previous McConnaissance highs. His Rustin Cohle circa '95 is a portrait of detachment and PTSD, and worlds away from his old party-boy persona without feeling like he's just playing a stock straight-and-narrow hero (see A Time to Kill). His "narco wild-ass" persona Crash feels like the entire chilling Killer Joe experience without the fried-chicken excess. Cohle '12 combines the thousand-yard-stare mysticism of Mike's alpha stripper with Club's single-minded fatalism. Even better, he makes the whole thing feel rock-solid and of a single piece. There's great acting all over this show, especially Woody Harrelson and Michelle Monaghan, who finally makes good on the promise she showed in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. But this is McConaughey's show. Oscar win or not, it really feels like the last three years of tightwire walks have all been adding up to this.


2. Cary Fukanaga is no longer a director to be taken for granted. (Yassssssss x10000)


Next to McConaughey, the one name most associated with True Detective is Nic Pizzolatto, a novelist and occasional TV writer (The Killing) who acts as the series showrunner. He's the true auteur of the show — but you can't discount the contributions of the man behind the camera for every one of the first season's episodes. Thanks to his Sundance-coronated 2009 feature debut Sin Nombre, filmmaker Cary Fukanaga demonstrated a knack for complementing immersive-journalistic storytelling with impressive chops. His sophomore film, an adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (2011), then proved he was no one-trick indie-cinema pony.


But Fukunaga's work here elevates him into an entirely different class of director. Yes, there's the famous six-minute shot in episode five ("Who Goes There?") that had everyone in a tizzy, but that showstopper is an exception that proves the rule: He's a helmer who understands how to use restraint, atmosphere, pacing and the power of a well-framed composition to both push forward and enhance the storytelling. That, and his work with actors here is first-rate. Pizzolatto is the voice of True Detective. Fukunaga, however, gives form to that voice in a singularly wondrous, controlled manner. You step away from this show thinking that he has the potential to be one of the greats.

3. The British model of the limited-episode season works equally well on these shores.
Thanks to the success of American Horror Story, we already knew that modern audiences were warming to the concept of anthology shows, and the guessing game as to who might be the next pair of cops to go down Pizzolatto's rabbit holes has already begun in earnest. But when it was announced that the show would play out over just eight episodes, there were pockets of preshow cybermurmuring that wondered if the story might not have been substantial enough for a standard 13-episode run, or if the fact that it would only run for slightly over half the number of a typical season's episode allotment suggested a lack of faith from the show's cable-channel patron. Clearly, neither of those complaints are being put forth now. (Though what's up with the lack of renewal announcement yet, HBO?)

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