1) Captivating and complicated anti-heroes
An uber-talented lead performer can elevate the quality of otherwise weak material, and vice versa. When both are firing on all cylinders, it’s magic. No one is firing with more force right now than Matthew McConaughey, who is coming off a second consecutive year of remarkable work, likely to culminate in an Academy Award next month. As such, the initial announcement that he was going to star in an HBO series, along with another seasoned film actor in Woody Harrelson, made True Detective immediately intriguing.
Both leads’ performances are as excellent as expected, in that they are unpredictable and authentic. As Rust Cohle, McConaughey seems to have an endless depth of layers that get peeled off each week, uncovering fascinating and troublingly dark aspects of this detective’s history. His manner is subtly transformative—his gaze is disturbingly vacant, and his gait lacking the confidence we’re used to seeing from his previous roles. He takes the ‘high-functioning sociopath’ template of someone like Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock to a scary place, and yet he remains, in an odd way, incredibly fun to watch.
Harrelson, who is overshadowed to an extent by McConaughey’s more colorful and unique style, is equally superb, capturing Martin Hart’s staggering hypocrisy and deep sadness. While Cohle is so aware of the world’s grimness that he’s become numb, Hart maintains an obliviousness that allows him to demonstrate a playful charm, but that is merely a cover to hide his profound loneliness and desperation, which drives him to some rather repulsive actions. Both men are imperfect in their own ways, and their faults keep us absorbed in the story’s outcome, while their magnetism keeps our attention focused and entertained throughout.
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