True Detective: season 2 review

Whilst it’s incredibly easy to jump on the critical bandwagon and denounce the second season of True Detective as a confusing and unengaging flop, I feel that’s slightly unfair. It’s also unfair to constantly compare it to the first season. A season which, let’s face it, had little expectation, other than the fact it had a couple of A-listers in the lead roles. Yet delivered and then some.

For the sake of fairness, the first season had a couple of obvious but vital things going for it too. It was a simpler story, albeit leaping around time periods. It also had a secret weapon: Matthew McConaughey, a man at the top of his game. But, first and foremost, we identified with the two lead characters and the interaction they had together.

Fast forward to season two and the cast has changed and grown, the story has become more complex and layered, and the location has shifted from the simmering deep south to the urban sprawl of LA.

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So, it’s literally almost an entirely different show.

That said, some things remain. Such as the slow burn tone (expertly continued with a woozy, languorous and devilishly seductive soundtrack) and the tortured characters (instead of two leads we now have four – more bang for your buck). Although what this does mean is that we as an audience need to reinvest ourselves in an entirely new set of troubled souls.

So in step Colin Farrell (a washed up old copper desperate to connect with his kid), Rachel McAdams (a prickly detective unable to meaningfully connect with anyone at work or at home) and Taylor Kitsch (a young traffic cop grappling with – and hiding from – his sexuality), who are thrown together to initially solve a murder which spirals out into a much bigger web of corruption and deceit, partially involving Vince Vaughn’s aspirational gangster.

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With the series finale (after eight episodes) I was left feeling rather relieved it was all over as it had sort of collapsed under the own weight of its expectation. And, despite the cast all giving a decent account of themselves (particularly Rachel McAdams and Colin Farrell), there was nothing they could do to elevate the confused and convoluted script.

Will there be a season 3?

Smart money would say no, although HBO are open to it. The first season was critically acclaimed and the second the polar opposite; maybe the result of just trying to be too ambitious for its own good and different for the sake of it? If that’s the case then the show’s creator Nic Pizzolatto should be applauded for his bravery. After finding a winning formula in season one he then oddly, largely, abandoned it. Or perhaps tried to evolve it, it’s hard to say.

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On the plus side there were definitely things to love about the second season. For example we had proper, cinematic, edge-of-your-seat scenes throughout, in particular a street gun battle in broad daylight that felt akin to the one in Michael Mann’s Heat.

Then there were quieter, more introspective moments that were incredibly tender and showed a deftness of touch. In particular a series of intensely vulnerable moments between Farrell and McAdams’ characters as they opened up to one another, which were understated and deeply moving.

In some ways I’d be interested to see what they do with a third season, should they choose to make one. Different location again? Different characters? Would any return or cross paths?

These days, TV audiences are a little spoilt for choice with the quality out there, despite the fact that the ‘golden age of TV’ is reportedly over. And anything that plays by its own rules is bound to divide people. But there is definitely a place for this sort of show, so maybe let’s not give it a kicking just yet eh?

[Related articles]
Guardian article: In praise of… True Detective

Nightcrawler: the ultimate entrepreneur?

Dr. Robert Hare, one of the foremost researchers on sociopathy, believes that a sociopath is four times more likely to be at the top of the corporate ladder than in the janitor’s closet, due to the close match between the personality traits of sociopaths and the unusual demands of high-powered jobs.
M.E. Thomas, Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight

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Jake Gyllenhaal has had an interesting career so far. He’s made good choices and played interesting parts. But then, you could argue he started out in Donnie Darko, so he hit the ground running.

With Nightcrawler he’s gone up another level. Some critics have compared his performance to De Niro’s Travis Bickle. In terms of his character’s detachment from society it probably is on that level, but in other ways it’s far more compelling (and brought right up to date for modern-day society).

Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom who, when we first meet him, is a bit of a thief and a hustler. He is clearly a driven and articulate individual, but he has no purpose. Then one night he sees a car wreck on the highway and, as the police help the victim, he watches with fascination as a couple of guys race up in a van and film the whole thing. He’s instantly hooked and has found his calling.

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Like all good predators they lure you into a false sense of security and allow you to get close, but by the time you realise what their game is it’s too late. This is when Lou is at his scariest. For the most part he seems normal, albeit a bit odd, until he needs something from you. He’ll then persuade, reason and negotiate until, when all else fails, he threatens. And he means it.

At one point he says ‘I like to think that when people meet me they’re having the worst day of their lives.’ This applies not only to victims of crime that he films, but almost anyone he meets. If you’ve just met Lou, your day is about to get a hell of a lot worse. This is none more evident than the manner in which he treats his assistant Rick (Riz Ahmed), who gets a seriously rough ride throughout, to put it mildly.

Writer and director Dan Gilroy (making his directorial debut) has, in Lou Bloom, created a chillingly realistic portrayal of a man that will do whatever it takes to achieve his goals. He spends much of his time talking about his company and business strategy, spouting corporate jargon as if he vehemently believes it.

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However, the situations in which he finds himself – in an effort to capture the perfect shot – are ludicrous and highly disturbing to anyone who has even a questionable moral compass and ounce of humanity. For Lou, he is a predator in the purest sense. Duran Duran’s Hungry Like The Wolf would be the perfect theme song to this film.

Indeed, Gyllenhaal’s attention to character detail is masterful – from his cautious, fight-or-flight body language as he approaches a crime scene to the way his eyes seem to get bigger and light up in the darkness of the LA night if he senses a story is at hand.

Nightcrawler is the sort of film you go into with little expectation. At times it’s horrific and thrilling, but most of all it’s captivating. Much like the car wrecks and violent crime that Lou films, we can’t take our eyes off him as a character.

You can see where the film is largely going, but the inexorable, creeping sense of dread that it instils in you on the journey is something from which you cannot escape. And nor do you want to, in a twisted sort of way.