Noir peaked in the ‘40s and ‘50s when dames were mysterious and pesky things, and medical knowledge about cigarettes didn’t remove the atmospheric clouds of smoke from every scene. But between True Detective, In Bruges, Locke, and Drive, the genre has been making a comeback with, dare we say, a Lynchian flair at times. However, this season of True Detective has been as critically panned as the first was critically nuzzled. It has made one thing abundantly clear about the genre: simplicity is better. To prove it, a case study of another noir masculinity fable that started strong only to fizzle out: The Place Beyond The Pines.
Whatever you felt about the first season of True Detective, whether you agree with more positive reviews or more skeptical, it’s indisputable that its most interesting scenes consisted of nothing more complex than the two leads driving around shooting the shit.
The actors in Season Two are just as magnetic (Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams are, anyway). The problem in the new season lies with its script. The convoluted storylines and overabundance of characters bring to mind the second half of The Place Beyond The Pines, a blah film that would have been great if it had only gracefully bowed out before its second half.
Like Season One of True Detective, The Place Beyond the Pines began with a tight focus on a small cast of characters in a microcosm of society. Just like Rust and Hart, Ryan Gosling’s character was an intense man in the sticks, living a dark life (robbing banks instead of getting trashed and hunting murderers). You were immediately drawn in by its combination of otherness, its intimacy.
But, just as True Detective almost did, and Game of Thrones possibly did, The Place Beyond The Pines (SPOILER) surprise-executed its protagonist. This might have been an interesting and jarring ending if only they had stopped it there. But the movie rambled for nearly two more hours, first following the life of the guy who killed him (Bradley Cooper’s character) and then, because why stop there, following the life of both their sons, who alternated between dull and insufferable. A strong start melted down into discordant sludge. Sound familiar, True Detective viewers?
Above: Taylor Kitsch on the road to nowhere, just like his character.
Just three episodes into this season, True Detective is being eulogized as a show that had a strong start but lost its way. If the show’s creators want to find their way again — presumably in future seasons — they should look to The Place Beyond The Pines as a case study in what not to do. A happier fate would await them by following Farrell’s best performance showcase, In Bruges. Tight and snappy, alternately profound and profane, it achieved everything True Detective and The Place Beyond The Pines thought they were doing if they hadn’t been blinded by the light of their own self-importance.