Friday, March 14, 2014

The World According to Rust Cohle and Marty Hart

We became subscribers of HBO for the first time in December, when Comcast offered us a complimentary six-month subscription to make up for some deficiencies in customer service that illustrated just how easy it can be to fix a cable problem when you’re lucky enough to get the right person on the phone.  Of course, the flip side of that is that when you’re not lucky enough to find that person, you can go weeks or even months with an easy-to-solve problem that remains unresolved.

None of which has anything to do with “True Detective,” except to say that our timing was damn good because without that, we would have missed the show that probably grabbed the zeitgeist more than any other since “The Sopranos.”  Most people loved it, a small minority couldn’t stand it, but damn near everyone seemed to be talking about it.  You can put me solidly in the former category – I’ve watched every episode at least twice, and watched the last two episodes three times (so far).  Right now, I’m comfortable saying that it impressed me more than any other filmed narrative, either on TV or the big screen, since (at least) “The Social Network.”

This is probably where I should throw in the obligatory spoiler alert, because it’s really difficult to talk about the show without giving at least some important parts away.  And I’m going to take a “random notes” approach, because the show just seems to lend itself to that kind of analysis.

• A recurring theme throughout the show was the unreliability of its narrators, and what impressed me most about this aspect of it was that writer Nic Pizzolato stayed with that approach right through the end.  The most obvious example occurred in Episode 5, when Pizzolato and director Cary Joji Fukunaga juxtaposed what actually happened at DeWall Ledoux’s remote hideaway with the starkly different story that Rust Cohle and Marty Hart were telling Detectives Papania and Gilbough about it.  The commitment to that mode of storytelling was emphasized in the following episode, when Maggie Hart proved to be prone to the same type of misdirection during her interview with the two.  But for me, the most effective and powerful, not to mention moving, example of the tactic came in Episode 7, when the stories that Cohle and Hart told each other about their lives upon their reunion just accentuated how pathetic and sad each had become.

• Not sure what I can say about the performances of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson that hasn’t been said elsewhere.  Suffice to say, they have set an impossible standard for future seasons to match.  In “True Detective,” we are a long way from past efforts like “Failure to Launch” and “Cheers.”

• Cary Joji Fukunaga also deserves the superlatives being thrown his way.  Every shot over the entire 8-plus hours of the show had a purpose, and in many instances the visuals were even more powerful than the story being told at that particular moment.  The sequence near the end of the final episode – when Fukunaga begins at the hospital and slowly takes the viewer on a tour back through the sites of the horrors that confronted the detectives, ending at the giant tree where Dora Kelly Lange was found 17 years ago – was my favorite of the entire series.  A close second was the now-famous 6 minute long tracking shot from Episode 4, with Cohle finding his way out of the outlaw compound with his life and prisoner intact, which no doubt will become a staple of film school courses for decades to come.

• As for the final episode, I loved every minute of it.  It didn’t bother me that the final scenes when Cohle and Hart confronted the monster who had plagued them for so long moved back into a more traditional mode of story-telling, because a) they were executed so well (literally, I was on the edge of my seat for the entire sequence) and b) I would have been disappointed if Pizzolato had taken things in a “Twin Peaks-like” direction.  And the touch of having Errol slip into a James Mason accent after watching a snippet of “North by Northwest” was the kind of brilliant touch that makes one wish that they’d thought of that themselves.

And frankly, I’m happy that we were left with a happy ending.  There were several other spots in the last episode where the story could have ended that would have made just as much sense, but I’m not sure they would have imparted as much meaning.  If the point of the entire enterprise was to show both Cohle and Hart as changed men, I’m not sure how else the show could have ended.  So there are no complaints from me on that score.

The anthology format is filled with so much potential that I can’t wait to see what Pizzolato comes up with next.  And I can imagine that other talented writers and filmmakers are already thinking about what they’d be able to do with that kind of support and talent.

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