‘Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with?’ That’s how I feel about True Detective. It’s silent, brooding and masculine as hell. All the guys I know love it but to begin with, as a girl, I wasn’t so sure.
It’s true there’s double the eye-candy – you can choose between Matthew McConaughey as the moody intellectual with the razor-blade cheekbones, or Woody Harrelson as the fresh faced, good ole cop with a naughty twinkle in his eye for the ladies. But the only ladies you’ll see are hookers, wives and pissed-off girlfriends. Nothing new there you might say. So what’s the hook for this girl?
This is the old made new, the generic buddy cop movie made strangely particular by the beauty of the language and the stillness of the pauses between these two men as they drive through the Louisiana landscape. Nic Pizzolatto’s writing is elegant, often spare but sometimes dense, intellectual and witty. This is dialogue worth tuning in to, by turns philosophical, self-loathing and slyly funny. As a film it’s impossibly beautiful, the big skies, the yellow skin tones, the Southern heat and dust made visible by director Cary Joji Fukunaga and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw.
And then there are the two star turns – McConaughey the initial draw as the screwed up anti-hero, but with Harrelson subverting your expectations as his character becomes less charming and more a drowning man clutching at women like straws.
Like my other favourite ‘slow-burn’ series from last year – Hannibal and Top of the Lake, True Detective ain’t in no hurry to tell you the plot, using the now common device of ending a quiet episode with a sudden glimpse of horror. The momentum keeps building. Like House of Cards, you’re watching one long story unfold over a series. There is the odd flashy set piece but it’s the incremental gains you watch for.
It’s a masculine vision of the world that reminds me of The Godfather, not in its description of mob life but in its belief that it’s ‘kill or be killed’. The characters are in the grip of ancient laws, desires and grudges beyond their control or understanding.
It creates a view of the male psyche, trapped in a world limited by the very pleasures used to drown his sorrows. Sex, drugs, alcohol and violence are seen as useless aides in the face of the loneliness of life, they only make things worse by confronting you with a vision of yourself you can’t stand to be around. You could argue many male-oriented films indulge in these activities while revealing them as hollow and self-defeating – but it’s the quality of the writing and the silence enveloping these characters on their long, existential drives that demands our attention and evokes a desire to understand them.
That and they’re just so goddamn cool. Like Billie Holiday, I am in love with the ‘No Good Man’, but I also want to whisper, ‘Don’t Explain.’