Tom Leins reviews True Detective and Dallas Buyers Club.
After impressing with early roles in A Time To Kill and Lone Star, Matthew McConaughey had Hollywood at his mercy, and took on a series of eclectic if ultimately forgettable projects. Somewhere around the turn of the century he lapsed into rom-com purgatory, a cinematic ghetto he struggled to escape from for a hefty chunk of his career. After a decade of increasingly dispiriting romantic comedies, McConaughey was forced to take stock of his situation and started turning down easy pay-cheques in an effort to reinvent himself. After a two-year break he resurfaced with acclaimed crime drama The Lincoln Lawyer in 2011, going on to notch up leftfield credits in the likes of Killer Joe (2011), The Paperboy, Mud and Magic Mike (all 2012). His hot-streak shows no sign of slowing down, and 2013/14 saw him hit dizzy new heights with Dallas Buyers Club and True Detective.
The latest TV series to roll off the enviable HBO production line, True Detective (HBO Home Entertainment)sees McConaughey star asLouisiana State Police Detective Rustin ‘Rust’ Cohle, who is brought in – alongside estranged colleague Martin Hart (Harrelson) – to revisit a bizarre ritualistic murder that they worked on back in 1995. The investigation unfolds through the two men’s separate interrogations, and the tormented ex-cops find themselves dragged back into the murky case that has haunted them ever since, prompting them to take the law into their own hands in a bid to achieve closure.
Created and written by cult author Nic Pizzolatto – whose previous TV experience was limited to two episodes of the US version of The Killing – True Detective unfolds over eight gripping hours, and sees both McConaughey and Harrelson deliver pitch-perfect career-high performances. Despite his relative lack of experience in the TV world, Pizzolatto has weaved together a dense, allusive yarn that avoids easy answers and probes uncomfortable depths in an attempt to get under its protagonists’ skins.
Part noir thriller, part incisive character study, True Detective is evocative and impeccably crafted throughout. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga – whose debut feature Sin Nombre marked him out as a talent to keep an eye on – also delivers the goods, and has boosted his reputation considerably. McConaughey’s hot streak ensures that he will earn most of the plaudits as boozy, burned-out nihilist Rust, but Harrelson’s barely restrained Hart is also exceptional, adding light and shade to his similarly intense work in gritty recent fare such as Rampart and Out of the Furnace.
Bleak, aggressive and provocative, True Detective is easily the best US TV show of the year so far. Miss out at your peril.
The release of True Detective coincides with that of Dallas Buyers Club (eOne), the movie that earned man-of-the-moment McConaughey a richly deserved Academy Award for Best Actor. The film examines the life and times of Texas cowboy Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) whose free-wheeling life is overturned when he’s diagnosed as HIV-positive and given 30 days to live. Determined to outrun his fate by any means possible, Woodroof decides to take matters in his own hands by tracking down alternative treatments from all over the world by means both legal and illegal. After finding an unlikely ally in Rayon (Jared Leto, who won the Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor), he establishes a hugely successful ‘buyers’ club’ and unites a band of outcasts in a struggle for dignity and acceptance.
McConaughey is increasingly comfortable taking risks that few of his contemporaries seem willing to match, and it is hard to imagine anyone else inhabiting the role of Woodroof quite as convincingly. Indeed over the preceding two decades, Woody Harrelson, Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling were all attached to the project as it languished in development hell. Leto, who seemingly drops in and out of Hollywood between albums with his all-consuming musical side-project Thirty Seconds To Mars, is similarly impressive as Rayon, and reaffirms his position as one of contemporary cinema’s most intriguing stars.
After gaining 67lbs for his role in Chapter 27, the underrated biography of John Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman, method actor Leto lost 30lbs to play Rayon – a feat improbably bettered by McConaughey who shed 47lbs to better depict his character’s decline. The actors’ respective commitment to the cause tells you everything that you need to know about the dark drama at the heart of the film – not to mention the grim history lesson it shines a light on. Unique and persuasive, Dallas Buyers Club is an important movie that grips throughout, without ever coming across as sanctimonious. Hugely impressive.