June 18, 2015

Desolate, Creepy, Suspenseful: The Second Season of "True Detective"

Alessandra Stanley reviews season 2 of HBO's True Detective for the New York Times here. She says in part:

Season 1 had two stars in the lead roles, Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. Now there are four: Vince Vaughn is Frank Semyon, a gangster-entrepreneur; Rachel McAdams is Detective Ani Bezzerides; Colin Farrell is Detective Ray Velcoro; and Taylor Kitsch is Paul Woodrugh, a motorcycle officer with the California Highway Patrol.

That’s a lot of star power and screen charisma, but all four leads wander in a haze of gloom so unrelenting and indistinguishable that it is almost comical; their lives are master classes in misery that make the novels of James Ellroy seem like Dr. Seuss stories.

The desolate landscape of industrial sprawl in the fictional city of Vinci, just outside Los Angeles, is much bleaker than the fields and swamps of rural Louisiana. Even the show’s opening theme is creepier: the sulfurous sound of Leonard Cohen reciting the words to his song, “Nevermind.”
There isn’t as much versatility and contrast, but the new season has evocative scenes of its own. These are seedy, small-time cops and robbers, but their story is sometimes ennobled with almost startling touches of visual grandeur. In a louche bar where Frank conducts business with Ray, the camera frames Frank’s face against a rich green backdrop and holds there — the mix of light and dark is so painterly it looks like a Renaissance portrait.

“True Detective” is monochromatic and self-serious, but it builds suspense with finesse and has a keen appreciation for the poetry of political corruption and urban decay.
That makes it intriguing, just not enthralling. Then again, a second novel is sometimes a prelude to a third that truly is twice as good.

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