On June 9th 2014 the much hyped HBO drama True Detective - starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson - arrives on DVD and Blu Ray. Here at 24 Frames we tend to focus on movies but since there are so many cinematic elements at play on our TV screens these days, I thought I would offer up my thoughts on this truly remarkable series.

True Detective focuses on an investigation into the brutal murder of a woman in Louisiana back in 1995 as two detectives, Rust Cohle and Marty Hart, are interviewed on the case in 2012. The centre of the narrative focuses on their recollections of the case and their own personal lives. McConaughey and Harrelson and are ably supported by Michelle Monaghan as Hart's wife Maggie and Michael Potts as one of the police investigators going back over the case in 2012. To offer more would be to spoil the labyrinthine narrative that plays here, not only on the crime itself but more poignantly the lives and fractious friendship between these two detectives.

The two lead performances are key to the success of the story. McConaughey is a force of nature (again) as he portrays Rust Cohle - a man who has an embittered and sad past in which his daughter perished and his marriage was subsequently destroyed. Cohle is a man steeped in philosophical understanding and his own insightful glare into the fragility of human morality, religious understanding, love and family. While Cohle possesses a sense of melancholic ambivalence and arrogance toward the world his ideas, while seemingly nihilistic, actually embody a sense of empathy and compassion. His search for personal truth is a key aspect of his characterization within the overall framework of the crime thriller because we as the audience are also bound to watching shows like this because of our own morbid desire to see the case solved and ultimately the truth to be unearthed; the fact Cohle is searching for personal truth makes this idea more dynamic.

Hart is the more grounded of the two characters, and yet his struggles with adultery and his own demons are the unifying factors between the two detectives. The series creator Nic Pizzolato clearly wants us to be aware that because both men cannot move outside their own modus operandi in terms of their personal and professional lives.

It was the American writer Edgar Allan Poe who placed detective fiction within a framework based upon the psychological fear of the antagonist, and the protagonist against a backdrop of how these sinister realms create both an avid interest on the part of the reader of crime fiction and the characters in the story. I mention Poe here because he casts a long gothic shadow over the film noir we are presented with in True Detective and its two main characters. Cohle and Hart are as much in conflict with their own psyche's and flaws as they are motivated to actually solve the horrific crimes at play in the story. Both actors are superb here and their dynamic reminded me of how Mulder and Scully from 'The X Files' might have turned out if they had a heavy influence of narcotics and lust between them in their personal lives. Despite the blackness of the themes and narrative, the two actors manage to find a distinct sense of humour in some of their interactions with each other and it is a credit to their casting that they manage to do it so well.

The series creator Nic Pizzalatto had previously scripted two episodes of the dire American remake of The Killing (2011). Here he redeems himself completely and manages to create something that is a valuable addition to both crime fiction and film noir as a whole. His scripts have shades of the crime writer James Ellroy and to me he also has an understanding of the melodramatic connotations of portraying a character led crime drama on screen.


In 1995 Michael Mann released Heat - a crime thriller rooted in portentous and existential dialogue between its male characters and their female lovers and friends. This type of dialogue would never be spoken in real life but what Mann and now Pizzalatto clearly understand is that this dialogue can be grounded within a melodramatic framework when spoken by actors who have chemistry and talent. What Pizzalatto also has is a beautiful understanding of the time difference between 1995 and 2012 and what that means for the story. There are no smartphones or wide digital data use in the '90s and yet the script never overplays these time differences against a thematic narrative in which the passage of time is an inherently deep subtext of the entire story. From the pictures we see in a witness' home of the Ku Klux Klan, to the effects of Hurricane Andrew on Louisiana and the economic cost upon the inhabitants of the history of the American South upon them, while some of these elements are directly referenced it is a measure of Pizzalatto's genius as a writer that this subtext is allowed to play out in an organic fashion as we meet all of the characters from what would be considered a piece of modern film noir; from prostitutes to drug addicts, political figures, strippers, rapists and murderers - because Pizzalatto is aware of his story none of these tried and tested elements feel tired or boring.

While some commentators have highlighted flaws in the portrayal of the female characters in the story I would actually argue that while they manage to fall victim to the type of masculinity at play, the female characters actually embody the idea that they too are determined by their personal history and human desires. Even some of the more sensationalist lines in the story relating to sex do not seem out of place in a world that, despite its operatic sensibility, actually feels terrifyingly true to the words spoken behind closed doors.

The director of photography Adam Arkapaw (who also shot the wonderful crime thriller Top of the Lake) gives the oil refineries and haunting landscapes of Louisiana a sad and hanuting visual sensibility (it also highlights a time when digital film wasn't as prevalent). There is also an action sequence filmed in one take that is simply breathtaking. The locations used by the production team also utilize the scope of the environment (an oil tanker moving up the water behind a hill is a highpoint) and to an extent some scenes are also reminiscent of the motifs used in Vietnam War movies. The music direction and score are also superb - from The Handsome Family's 'Far from Any Road' that features on the title credits to the score by T Bone Burnett, the soundtrack perfectly complements the story.

In short, True Detective is one of the greatest pieces of television I have ever seen. Edgar Allan Poe would be proud.

True Detective is released on DVD and Blu Ray on June 9th in the United Kingdom and June 10th in the US