True Detective Season 1 Review – Crime Drama at its Best

After approximately four years since the release of the first season of HBO’s critically acclaimed anthology crime drama, True Detective, it has become one of the most beloved and cherished by fans of the genre for its experimentation, precision and expertise in the medium of television. At the surface level, this is a conventional police procedural with a buddy-cop relationship at the heart of the narrative and a homicide investigation influencing their journies into identity and compromise. Beneath the surface, however, this is much more than a mere season of television. It’s a breathtaking cinematic experience through the murky, gritty Louisianan bayous, exploring the internal struggles and difficulties faced by two detectives. Despite its controversial conclusion, True Detective Season One presents screenwriting, acting and directing at its very finest.

Set in the swampy, gritty landscape of Louisiana, True Detective follows the journies of two homicide detectives, both professionally and personally, as they investigate a ritualistic, occult murder over the course of seventeen years. While its structure appears to be similar to other texts in the genre, it is the execution and overall delivery that pushes this beyond what many others have done before. Every piece of dialogue feels purposeful and develops a greater sense of who these two men are, taking a thematic approach of masculine identities and the typology of the flawed protagonist. Nic Pizzolatto’s script boasts confidence and refinery that, while sometimes feeling quite slow-burning, absorbs and consumes the viewer with every minute, particularly in regards to Matthew Mcconnaughey’s character Rustin Cohle. Once the script kicks into gear and places you into the full force of the narrative, you will hope to savour those moments because they are utterly brilliant, compelling scenes. To some the ending to the anthology season might be considered controversial and slightly underwhelming, but it is only until you delve further into the writer’s decision making and vision that you begin to understand the true meaning behind it. This show, from beginning to end, feels like an engaging, beautifully crafted film in an episodic manner, and it can interest you in the simplest of ways. When a drama can be as intriguing and addictive as this without the need for a plentitude of action sequences, you know it’s worth the investment. And that’s exactly what you get here: a grounded, character driven narrative with sharp dialogue and equally effective plots.

Another salient feature to note is the direction and cinematography on offer here, which obtains a particularly gritty and dark aesthetic thoroughout. Since it was shot on 35mm film, this drama projects a gorgeously crisp and detailed appearance, whilst maintaining the stylistic tone of the piece. Cary Joji Fukunaga, director of True Detective’s highly acclaimed first season, uses every technique in his arsenal to produce some of the finest camerawork on television in a long while. His popular tracking shot in episode four is nothing short of magnificent and jaw dropping, but only adds to the variety of beautiful establishing, overhead shots and intentionally significant wide shots. There are times where you simply have to appreciate and acknowledge the technical genius behind this craft, because every single shot or angle has a particular purpose. Fukunaga’s directional role in this project was highly influential in the overall thematic and atmospheric approachs; since he directed all the episodes individually, they all combined as a very visually coherent, consistent drama that many shows have difficulty to sustain. The directing is as powerful and memorable as the script and the acting.

As an anthology series, True Detective has gone on to impact upon the narrative formats of many other series, such as The Night Of and The Missing, but also in its translation between the mediums of film and television. Not many dramas were able attract such largely noted actors, in this case Matthew Mcconaughey and Woody Harrelson, at least not until this point. These two were top-notch, providing performances of the finest quality. Whether it be their facial expressions or heir delivery of dialogue, their prowess in the field was highlighted in every single scene. It didn’t matter what the scenario was, they were truly magnetic and absorbing to the next level. In fact, this is some of their strongest work as both a collaborative pair and as individuals. Their chemistry bleeds onto the screen with plenty of personality and charm, keeping true to the cop duo intentions in an effective manner. Seriously, this drama is worth watching just for the acting alone.

Another particularly incredible feature this series exceeds standards is in its opening title sequence. While this might not interest or appeal to some viewers, the title sequence offers something very unique to its existence: an artistic, coherently crafted montage of double exposure shots that beautifully summarises the central themes in a matter of minutes. Undoubtedly, this is one of the richest, thematically present openings to grace the small screen.

In conclusion, True Detective Season 1 is a cornucopia of rich storytelling, intelligent dialogue, powerful performances and technical mastery across the board. Despite its initially slow pace, every episode builds upon the central preposition that drives the deep characterisation and well structured narrative forward to its eventual conclusion. If you’re seeking a procedural crime drama that is filled with quality material, there really aren’t many that can surpass the brilliance of what this individual season of television achieves in its eight episode journey. It well and truly deserves to be known as one of the greatest seasons of television ever produced.

VERDICT – 9.8/10

True Detective Season 2 Review is Coming Soon

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True Detective and Game of Thrones Scheduled for 2019

As HBO’s line-up for 2018 continues to expand and develop, there have been noticeable dramas left behind under Casey Bloy’s influence for the following year, leaving some fans disappointed and questioning the current shows to air this year.

Even after the underappreciated and heavily criticised second season, True Detective has been an interesting topic for those awaiting a third installment, but it looks like they’re going to have to wait even longer for their next season to be released. This may be due to the second season being criticised for feeling rushed, for which the HBO president of programming Michael Lombardo apologised. Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff have both been confirmed for the new installment in the anthology series, which will be set in the Ozarks region, which gives fans a little taste of what to expect, but the question of whether it’ll be enough still remains to be answered.

This comes after the recent news that the final season of Game of Thrones, the highly anticipated third season of True Detective and the second entry in the Big Little Lies series are all slated for a 2019 release. This leaves many questions as to what exactly HBO has planned to fill this year, but gives a plentitude of content for the following year. While this evidently will give more time to invest into the quality of production, it will have many people concerned over what to watch in the meantime. 

HBO have confirmed that the second season of the sci-fi, western Westworld will be releasing this year alongside a few other projects, including the beginnings of production for the Watchmen television series and the eagerly awaited Deadwood film. That provides a solid structure for the year, at least to help compensate for the long waiting period. Westworld offers quality and diversity in the medium of television drama, but its audience may be considered niche, meaning that the significance of the programme will have little effect on the mass consumer base. 

There is still no news or updates on another season of The Night Of so it looks unlikely that it’ll appear this year, unless it somehow managed to slip under everyone’s radar.

Under Casey Bloy, HBO has been seeking longer investments of production development and time to improve the overall quality of the material they are providing. Whether that be for better or worse, it means that everyone will be having to wait patiently for their next installments. Don’t worry, though, there’s plenty of other dramas to keep us company in the meantime. 

Moonlight Review – An Emotional Masterclass 

Winner of three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Moonlight follows the emotional, visceral journey of Chiron at three stages of his life. There are layers of depth, constantly asking challenging questions of the audience, which keeps on adding to the voice and tone of this film. It is as much a representation of masculine identities so much as it is a representation of human identities and the constructs of social norms. Barry Jenkin’s film provides everything you could ever want in an emotional, dramatic, coming of age narrative, breaking convention and being bold in its presentation. Technically this film is very gifted, as well. Boasting a beautifully harmonic score and gorgeous cinematography throughout, not mentioning the authentically raw, powerful acting particularly from Mahershala Ali, Naomi Harris and all three portrayals of Chiron. Whether you’re looking for your next film to make you cry or a film that actually grasps meaning and detail underneath the surface, this film has it all. It truly is an emotional masterclass of storytelling.

At its very core, Moonlight is a sincere and genuine film that constantly finds new ways to invest its audience, typically through its characterisation and plot. Chiron is a character for the ages to remember as we are thrown into his unstable situation, both domestically and mentally. Whether it be his drug abusive, inattentive mother, his bullying classmates or the socio-economic community he is trying to fit into, this film explores a wide range of scenarios and places you – the viewer – at the heart of his internal pain. It’s emotionally compelling and so beautifully executed, taking you on his discoveries and progression through the narrative. If you’re one for connecting cathartically, be prepared for tears as this is hardhitting, natural characterisation at its optimal state.

Each point in Chiron’s life is filled with intricate and important moments that all culminate in his eventual realisations later in the film. Its pacing was constant throughout, never once feeling like it was unnecessary or irrelevant for what it was trying to set in motion. These pinnacle moments all brought a sense of greater stakes and broader perspectives to the story, but at the same time felt important individually for the overall contrast in his life. Most notably, the transition from his teenage years to his adult years, where he becomes a very typical male in his ethnic community, muscular in stature and wearing a set of gold teeth. This distinct portrayal of masculinity, especially in contrast to The earlier depictions of such, adds to the enigma and general force it holds in The narrative structure. Add all of this to phenomenal acting from all three actors and you have something of pure magnificence, providing tears, laughs, smiles and gaping shocks. 

Chiron, however, isn’t the only character to shine in this story. While it primarily focuses its attention on his journey for identity, Jenkin’s vision also accommodates for an array of rich, emotionally investing characters. Naomi Harris’ depiction of Chiron’s detached mother is as harrowing and frightening as it is powerful and gripping. Her performance is astonishingly human, giving justifications for her behaviourisms and eventually making you sympathise with her situation. Mahershala Ali provides another fantastic addition to the cast, for which he won Best Supporting Actor, that is filled with moral layers and dialogue that flows naturally. He’s troubled, ever so slightly broken, but he’s also committed to helping Chiron. His character isn’t featured for too long, but still plays a pivotal role in Chiron’s development. The minor characters are just as detailed, emotionally riveting and thoroughly convincing as the lead protagonist, reinforcing Jenkin’s ability to craft such compelling and visceral storytelling.

The cinematography is beautifully crafted, a gradient of blue and purple hues maintaining a visually stylistic film and one that continues to please viewers aesthetically. It isn’t the strongest contender for visual presence, but particular shots – including the familiar shot of teenage Chiron lifting his head from an ice cold basin at the mirror, showing his bruised face. It all culminates in this heart wrenching depiction of one boy’s journey for self discovery in a society that never appreciates him. In addition, the score is brilliantly calm and relaxing, offering gentle and subtle vibes to the intense sequences. It allows you to absorb the true messages underneath all the surface level themes and acknowledge the significance of what this film is achieving as a piece of artistic expression. 

To conclude, Moonlight is a cinematic experience unlike many others, telling a story of sincerity and authenticity that bleeds confidence and evocative, visceral expression on the screen. It’s characterisation offers opportunities for powerful and truly gut wrenching moments, making you question the society we have known to accept and adhere to. While there are films that have attempted to tackle these themes in the past, Moonlight executes it near flawlessly in all technical areas to produce something of artistic mastery. This is an experience that will have you discussing for days, weeks, perhaps even months on end because of its significance and relevance to the current climate sociologically. Moonlight, in every sense, is a masterpiece in film history.

VERDICT – 9.5/10

Daredevil Season 1 Review 

This review contains mild spoilers.
Twelve years since the original adaptation of Daredevil, this Netflix original season provides a gritty, violent and realistic aesthetic to the character. Telling the story of Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer with superhuman senses, this television drama focus heavily on his life both professionally as a lawyer and personally as the vigilante ‘Daredevil’, also known as the ‘Devil of Hell’s Kitchen’. If you’re looking for an action-packed, character driven, thrilling ten episode series, this season is definitely for you. Whether it be the sheer depth of the primary antagonist Wilson Fisk or the excellent direction and cinematography of the hallway tracking shot, this show is pure quality in nearly every aspect and is a true love letter to all those who enjoy the source material. This is one of the most refreshing, unique, original and incredible pieces of television in the Marvel Cinematic Universe ever to have been created. 

Set in New York’s ‘Hell’s Kitchen’, Daredevil has all the great conventions of a crime drama: a dark, gritty tone, adult themes, an anti-heroic and insightful protagonist and a thrilling antagonist with a strong motivation for what they are doing. This drama brilliantly executes the balance between action and character development, showing Matt Murdock as a man of intelligence, wit and a slight thirst for violence and releasing his inner demons. It’s a compelling narrative – despite its tendancy to sometimes have a ‘crime of the episode’ style – and really goes deeper and deeper into the enigma that both Matt Murdock and the villain, Wilson Fisk, provide. Fisk is a troubled man, who believes in trying to make the city ‘a better place’. As a viewer, it is difficult not to sympathise with his dark past and relationship with Vanessa. Even despite all the horrific things he does, his character is one that provides a great deal of balance and intrigue, unlike the typical Marvel villain archetype of being solely evil. Where this show blossoms is in its brilliant characters, that make this drama feel as alive as any other show with quality material.

Not only thus, but the cinematography and overall choreography for the fight scenes are pure genius. Take, for example, the excellently thrilling and gut wrenching tracking shot, that mesmerised viewers with over three minutes of beautifully shot hallway action. It felt realistic, like we were feeling every blow dealt to Matt and feeling his sympathy towards the kidnapped young child. First starting with silence and the gradual anticipation and build up through Matt’s senses soon lead to punches, manoeuvres and bodies sprawled across the floor. Every hit felt natural, and every enemy appeared to act and behave in a manner that most cinematic archetypes would not: they actually fought back. While tracking shots have been done many times before – from No Country for Old Men to True Detective – but something about this particular scene is so appealing and attractive aesthetically to the eye. It’s safe to say that this really set the precedence for the season and for the Netflix Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. 

The biggest issue with this season was the thirteen episode format, which created a vacuum for small crime, somewhat filler episodes. While it was refreshing to see a variety of different, compelling antagonists, sometimes this detracted from the overall focus of the plot with Wilson Fisk and made it feel ever so slightly repetitive in parts. It severely hindered the progress of the plot and sacrificed what could have been a very coherent and well structured story. Not that it’s a terrible thing to boast the excellent direction and action, but sometimes it would have been appreciated if more focus on the highlight of the show would have been acknowledged and considered. 

Another detracting feature was the somewhat anti-climatic conclusion to such a dramatic, highly anticipated series. Fisk had been a dominant hand in the city, both through influential and physical power. He had shown signs of weakness – which ultimately made him all the more likeable – with his relationship and light-hearted nature alongside Vanessa, but for the majority of the season he had developed a broad group of associates and had repressed those seeking to fight against him. He even went as far as murdering a particular character in order to keep the news outlets completely oblivious to his crimes, not to mention him paying off many forms of law enforcement to keep his secrets safe. Yet, despite all this power and influence, his closure is found in a futile battle against Daredevil – who had taken severe injuries after their last confrontation. This ending felt too scripted, too coincidental and just too simple. While Fisk’s story was one of the most compelling and intriguing throughout the season, his ending made him appear as a criminal out of his depth. 

This, however, is almost a side thought that sweeps alongside the positives because this show does so many things right that these criticisms are very difficult to remember when watching. With characters as compelling and thoroughly fleshed as these and choreographical sequences that baffle both the eye and the mind, this show is definitely onto a winner. It’s a very positive, confident approach that changes the perceptions of Marvel and the genre. Essentially, it’s a superhero show that is inhabited and absorbed by a particularly rich mystery and crime. While it may lack a strong conclusion, it still warrants a second season – which is also available to watch – and more than justifies a binging session. 

Daredevil Season 1 scores: