HBO’s latest offering brough us Matthew Mconaughey and Woody Harrelson as two homicide detectives involved in a dark case. With the initial murder taking place back in 1995 the show flits between then and now. Mconaughey’s Rust Cohle and Harrelson’s Marty Hart are first time partners on the original case but in the modern day Rust has gone off the rails and is a chain-smoking alcoholic, and the pair haven spoken for years. Being interviewed separately about the case they believed to have been solved seventeen years ago but another body has been found. All eight episodes of the season are written by Nic Pizzolatto and directed by Cary Fukunaga giving the series an overall style and feel that many shows can’t manage as a collaborative medium.
It’s true that there are a lot of detective shows out there, in all different shapes and forms television has always been obsessed with murder investigations and dirty cops. So the question is why should True Detective be the one you watch? Well, where to begin. The most staggering thing about this series is the quality of the writing. It’s a very dialogue heavy show, which may not suit everyone, but this provides an excellent basis for character development and it doesn’t take long before you see these two A-List movie stars as their characters. Pizzolatto’s scripts are deliciously dark with very little in the way of happiness but he has a real knack for creating flawed protagonists that are still likeable if, at times, questionably immoral. As the tension of the investigation builds so does the action, which is handled ridiculously well by Fukunaga, you may have seen around that episode four (perhaps the greatest hour hour of television you will see for a long, long time) features a six-minute unbroken tracking shot during an undercover mission where, to put it bluntly, shit hits the fan making the show every bit as exciting and cool as any blockbuster movie you’ll go and see. And of course, none of this greatness could have been achieved without a cast to match and Mconaughey and Harrelson deliver some of the best performances of both their careers. Mcounaghey, of late, has become the most exciting actor around and his turn here is probably equal to that of his Oscar winning portrayal in Dallas Buyers Club. Harrelson is just as good, neither of the two ever steal the attention and instead manage to create this very real volatile relationship with each other.
Television is improving at such an astonishing rate that we will soon never be without top quality shows like this. True Detective shows us just how far TV drama has come in recent years and brings with it some of the best stuff you will see on your screens this year. let’s hope they don’t ruin it with a lacklustre second season because this is damn near perfection.
So last night I sat down to watch William Friedkin’s Killer Joe. A dark comedy/drama starring Matthew Mconaughey as a cop who does a bit of contract killing on the side. Killer Joe is hired by Emile Hirsch’s Chris to murder his step mother in order to reap the benefits of her life insurance policy. Chris father, Ansel (an unusual Thomas Haden Church) agrees that it would be better for everyone if his wife was killed but when Joe offers them the ultimatum of having to pay up front things start to take a turn for the worse for the Smith family. As a ‘retainer’ Joe asks to be able to date Chris’ little sister Dottie (Juno Temple) until the insurance pays out as events unfold the relationship between the two becomes increasingly intense leading to all kinds of problems within the Smith family set-up.
Best known for his genre-defining possession horror The Exorcist it seems that with Killer Joe Friedkin is often far too drawn to the brutal aspects of the script than the funny ones. The portrayal of Joe as a creepy, ominous presence is often played far too seriously to be funny, scenes involving him and Dottie are overly dark and, what is basically paedophilia is a pretty difficult topic to get laughs from even in the stupidest of situations. The violence in the movie seemed far too brutal as well, rather than going for stupidly over the top gore it just all seems to real and in most of the violent scenes there is no music making it seem all the more bleak. Apart from perhaps Temple it seems none of the actors are aware it’s supposed to be funny as well, Mconaughey and Hirsch in particular play their characters so straight it’s very hard to see where the joke is which ultimately leaves the film stuck in some kind of limbo. There are moments which you can tell are supposed to be laugh-out-loud hilarious but somewhere in between the words on the page and the pictures on the screen the humour has been lost. One scene in particular where Joe is making a woman suck a piece of KFC chicken in the place of his dick is obviously supposed to be a joke, however dark it may be, but is made very hard to laugh at by the fact the he has just needlessly beaten this woman in a brutalistic manner and rather than appearing just downright crazy Mconaughey plays him as if he’s cool, calm and collected making everything seem much to dark to produce any kind of laughter.
There are all kinds of good ideas within this film that you feel had the tone been set better would make for an excellent popcorn yarn but in the end it all comes across a miss-match of stuff. If it were a straight horror film Mcounaghey’s nutty hitman would provide adequate fodder for a few nightmares but gets confused in amongst all the crazy, absurd stuff that’s supposed to be funny. If it was played a bit more stupid it would make for a very decent black comedy as well it just seems that these characters are actually too real for the horrible stuff that happens to be funny, some of it is done too well for its intended purposes while other bits aren’t done well enough. Overall it results in a rather confusing picture that has far too much going on for you to make head or tail of what to feel about it.