Videophiled TVD: ‘True Detective’

True Detective (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD) tells a single, self-contained story told over eight hour-long episodes, technically a miniseries but more like an original novel for television: focused rather than sprawling, intimate rather than epic. Created and written by novelist Nic Pizzollato and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, it stars Matthew McConaughey as Detective Rust Cohl, a smart detective with a fierce psychological insight to criminals but poor collaborative and social skills, and Woody Harrelson as Detective Marty Hart, a family man with a more traditional approach to police work but rather loose definition of fidelity.

They aren’t so much an odd couple set of partners as simply colliding personalities who have to work to get along enough to solve cases, but they both agree that something is not right with their current case, which has similarities with other unsolved murders, cryptic clues with cult dimensions, and a murky trail that leads them to a regional church, a white supremacist organization, and a legacy of corrupt cops who have muddied the waters with bad police work and cover-ups. It jumps back and forth through time, framed by interviews with the two detectives years after the investigation ended without an arrest, and seems to be heading into supernatural territory, but ultimately the scariest revelation of the story is how such evil can continue for decades because of corruption, special interests, and institutional incompetence.

Harrelson and McConaughey inhabit rich, complicated, terribly flawed characters and Michelle Monaghan plays Hart’s wife, frustrated by his affairs and his lies, but also unable to deal with his failure to communicate as the case takes a toll on his psyche. It is beautifully written and directed, with haunting imagery and challenging subject matter, and it delves into dark territory. Not just the worlds they investigate but their own instincts and impulses and self-destructive choices. Pizzollato is working on a second series which will feature new characters and an entirely new story. Not a sequel as much as a follow-up television novel in the same spirit.

Eight episodes on DVD and Blu-ray, with commentary on two episodes by creator Nic Pizzollato and select collaborators, short “Inside the Episode” featurettes on each episode, the brief “Making True Detective,” interviews featurettes with stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson and creator / writer Nic Pizzollato with music director T Bone Burnett, and deleted scenes. Both feature an UltraViolet Digital HD copy of the season.

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DVDs for 05/25/10 – The Messenger and Mandella, Gamera and Dogora

The Messenger (Oscilloscope) – Ben Foster is the combat tested Iraq war veteran who faces the emotional minefield of civilians dealing with the death of a loved one when he’s assigned to spend the last days of his tour on a new mission: casualty notification. “There is no such thing as a satisfied customer,” explains his senior partner, played by Woody Harrelson as a complete professional on the job and a lonely, reckless mess off duty. They are the face of the United States Army in those terrible moments when loved ones are told words they never wanted to hear and faces reactions as varied as the people he meets: rage, blame, despair, denial, and in one instance a tender kindness from a confused widow (Samantha Morton at her most vulnerable) that stings deeper than any verbal or physical lash.

The Messengers prepare to deliver more bad news

In his directorial debut, Oren Moverman (screenwriter of I’m Not There) offers a poignant story of men in uniform nursing wounds and haunted by loss (both physical and emotional) but unable to see another life for themselves, and a powerful perspective on the casualties of war. Steve Buscemi co-stars a grieving father reduced to blind rage. Nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Supporting Actor Harrelson and Best Original Screenplay). Features commentary by director Moverman with producer Lawerence Inglee and stars Foster and Harrelson, a documentary on Casualty Notification officers, a behind-the-scenes featurette and an audience Q&A with the director and members of the cast and crew among the supplements.

The more prominent New Release this week is Invictus (Warner), Clint Eastwood’s reverent tribute to Nelson Mandella’s efforts to unite post-apartheid South Africa. Unfortunately, it’s less a film than a memorial: handsome, stately, well-meaning and dramatically inert. The film foregrounds Mandella’s efforts to enlist the national rugby team, which many blacks viewed as a symbol of white rule, in his efforts to unite the country around the 1995 World Cup Championship. Morgan Freeman earned an Oscar nod as Mandella and his gentle humor and quiet dignity helps soften the reverent tone that Eastwood brings to the film but doesn’t overcome the contrived efforts to wring an emotional response to every tiny show of solidarity or rouse up to cheer for the team to win that cup. Even Eastwood can’t make rugby look dignified on the big screen but Matt Damon brings great conviction (and a convincing Afrikaner accent) to his role as the team captain.

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