MSRP $32.99
RUNNING TIME  458 Minutes

  • Making True Detective
  • Up Close with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson
  • A Conversation with Nic Pizzolatto and T Bone Burnett
  • Inside the Episode
  • Two Audio Commentaries
  • Deleted Scenes

The Pitch

A buddy cop show that examines the darkest recesses of humanity.

The Humans

Woody Harrelson, Matthew McConaughey, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Potts, Tory Kittles

The Nutshell

Told through a frame narrative of interviews in 2012 with former police partners Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson), True Detective details the investigation of the murder of Dora Lange in 1995 in rural Louisiana. Her body was left on a frame of deer antlers and an occult symbol was drawn on her back, leading Marty and Rust into a world of corrupt churches, satanic cults, and ritualized murder. As the men investigate the crime, their already tenuous relationship is tested and both men have to face the demons within themselves. The story is then picked up in 2012 when new information about the case brings Rust and Marty together once more to take down great evil.

The Lowdown

Ever since Tony Soprano whacked his first guy on HBO fifteen years ago, the antihero has ruled TV. So in a medium saturated with middle-aged white men behaving badly, HBO’s True Detective had to find a way to stand out. The chicken-fried gothic noir is one part gritty detective story, one part brutally dark buddy cop show, and one part Southern horror story. Rust and Marty definitely fall in the same category as Walter White, Rick Grimes, and most of the cast of Sons of Anarchy, but the writing, direction, acting, and cinematography of True Detective are so excellent that it feels like something completely fresh instead of a rehash of the same old “gritty white guy” show.

Shot on 35mm film, True Detective is absolutely gorgeous. There are a number of shots in every episode that could be framed and put on walls and the use of camera movement is like a dance. There is no unnecessary shaky-cam here. Every shot is eye candy, from the show’s surrealist painting of an opening to the end credits. The backdrop of rural Louisiana is as much of a character as Rust or Marty and both the beauty and ugliness of nature are on full display. The cinematography style is dream-like and a little surreal, leaving the viewer feeling like they went down the wrong rabbit hole. When things are particularly intense, the show does not rely on quick cuts to add intensity but instead uses long cuts with lots of motion. The pinnacle of this is a seven-and-a-half minute long shot in which Rust infiltrates a meth ring. Even upon repeat viewings the scene is spectacular on a technical and visual level.

This show is really, really pretty.

This show is even prettier than McConaughey in Dazed and Confused.

Besides being gorgeous, True Detective has a cast acting at the top of their game. It’s strange to see Harrelson playing the “straight man” in the duo, but it works. Harrelson’s Marty is a gruff, no-nonsense, all-American cop. He’s the traditional man’s man, insecure in his own masculinity and even more insecure in his failing marriage. Marty has strong feelings about how people are supposed to act and behave in public, but the same rules don’t apply in his private life. He’s surprisingly complex and it’s difficult for the viewer to decide on whether they like or hate Marty, which is a fantastic ambiguity that makes the show feel so much more real.

McConaughey’s Rust is a serious oddball, a cop that spent way too long undercover on way too many mind-altering substances. He’s a loner and a bit of a creep, but he has redeeming qualities. Rust’s moral compass is quite a bit different from Marty’s, but it seems more genuine. Instead of caring what people think about him, Rust seems to only really care about what he believes in truly right. He also suffers from drug flashbacks that cause him to hallucinate – these are illustrated through stunning visuals in which the viewer sees what Rust sees.

I think the birds might be on acid too.

I think the birds might be on acid too.

With such unique personalities, it’s not hard to believe that Rust and Marty rarely get along. They take the standard buddy-cop routine of butting heads to astounding levels. The dialogue between them is sharp and provides some pretty fantastic quotes (“You are like the Michael Jordan of being a son of a bitch” is this reviewer’s personal favorite barb). Despite the antagonism between them, Rust and Marty make damn good partners. Their relationship is the driving force in the show, more so than even the manhunt for the murderer of Dora Lange. The impacts they make on one another are incredibly intense and nuanced. McConaughey and Harrelson are both nearly perfect in their roles, which makes sense because writer Nic Pizzolatto edited the finished episode scripts once they were cast and wrote the rest with the actors in mind.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the two performances are the differences between 1995 Rust and Marty and the 2012 Rust and Marty. Both have undergone significant changes in seventeen years, but figuring out just how much has really changed is an interesting journey for the viewer. 2012 Marty looks about the same as he did almost two decades prior, just with a bit less hair and a bit more melancholy, but Rust is a totally different beast altogether.

This, kids, is why you don't do drugs.

This, kids, is why you don’t do drugs.

It would be a disservice to anyone reading this to detail the plot, as it is as complex and twisted as Marty and Rust’s relationship. Any attempt to explain the murder-mystery/manhunt/psychological thriller aspect of the show would inevitably lead to the kind of spoilers that really taint the viewing of a show as unique and surprising as this one. True Detective crams as much into one episode as many shows put into three or four, which can be emotionally and mentally exhausting but ultimately feels worth it. Binge-viewing this show is a test of one’s existential endurance.

True Detective is a show about what it means to be righteous. It examines the nature of justice, of right and wrong under unique circumstances, of man’s nature as the true king of beasts. It’s dark, it’s visceral, and it’s absolutely brilliant.

The Package

HBO never skimps on the actual packaging or menus, and as always these are great. The packaging itself is faux-distressed and the menus are lovely to look at.

The DVD set includes a wide range of bonus features, including the fifteen minute “Making True Detective“, individual “Inside the Episode” pieces that are included with each episode and are around five minute each, interviews with cast and crew, deleted scenes, and two audio commentaries.

“Making True Detective”  is a great little introduction to the series and highlights on one of the most technically impressive scenes in the show – a seven-minute long single take shot that includes running through a house, fighting, gunplay, and a car chase. The short also features information on the location choices made for the show, which is great because Louisiana really is a character of its own.

The “Inside the Episode” shorts are interesting but should definitely be watched after the episodes that they are linked to – otherwise the viewer will have surprises spoiled for them. The shorts offer insights on directorial and writing choices as well as background information on some of the locations used. They’re not required viewing but are still a neat offering for fans who want more on each episode.

There are four interviews with Harrelson and McConaughey, each focusing on different aspects of their character’s relationships. They’re a few minutes long each and are fun to watch.

The interview with series creator/writer/executive producer Nic Pizzolatto and musical composer T Bone Burnett is about 15 minutes long and details the role of music in the show. Interesting, but not a must-watch.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars