Remember: don't be a dirty birdy.
Bill struggles with guilt over Lou, while Lou can't keep Brady out of her head.
HBO’s True Detective
Season 2, Episode 1: “The Western Book of the Dead”
Directed by Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow)
Written by Nic Pizzolatto
* For a review of the next episode, “Night Finds You” – click here
To start, this is NOT a repeat of True Detective True Detective Season 1 – the show is trying to do a new story, new characters, the whole shebang. Of course the whole thing is still very existential, regardless if Rust Cohle is not spouting out Nietzsche rehashes and what not [which I loved but come on – they weren’t anything groundbreakingly new outside of philosophical circles]. I mean, Colin Farrell’s low-down-and-dirty Ray Velcoro already gave the beauty line “We get the world we deserve” in the second episode of this season, so there is definitely still an existential element kicking around inside of Nic Pizzolatto’s second season. However, this time around there’s much of a demon-within type of vibe going. Whereas the police detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Hart were truly trying to serve justice for the sake of the victims, all those poor young girls taken and killed by vicious, hateful men, the second season of True Detective seems to be focusing on how some of those same police get lost along the way, how they bend the law to work for them, and even though they’re ultimately trying to do good, they end up doing a lot of bad along the way.
Starting off, we get to see Ray Velcoro [Farrell]. His tale is a rough one – his wife was raped, they never found the attacker, and neither she nor her now ex-husband Ray know if their boy is his or not. Certainly Ray does the true blood thing to do: he raises the kid as his own. He doesn’t want to know anything about DNA, he just wants his son to be his son. Problem is ole Ray has vices – the drink and the drugs – and his temper is fierce. Like anyone, Ray wanted revenge for what happened to his wife, and as an officer of the law, he naturally felt stuck when even the law let him down. In comes Frank Semyon [Vaughn] who facilitates the revenge Velcoro needs by tracking down the man responsible, which coincides with Ray’s wife and her statement. This puts Ray deep in with Semyon, who uses him as a man on the inside, and as Ray climbs the ranks to detective, of course Frank reaps the benefits.
I think Ray is going to be one of the most interesting of the bunch in this season. There’s a scene involving Ray and a kid who bullies his son at school, plus the boy’s father, which really takes you from “Okay, Ray is a normal guy in a bad situation” to “Wow, Ray is a bad dude”. Even while you side with him, he takes things much too far. Not hard to see the booze and the cocaine, and the more booze, doesn’t help his natural temperament. At the end of the tunnel, for Ray I see a bit of redemption. Now, whether or not Ray will have to die for this, it is way too soon to tell [even in light of Episode Two’s events]. We will see.
Next is Rachel McAdams as Detective Ani [Antigone] Bezzerides who has more than her fair share of issues, as well. First, her estranged father Eliot [David Morse] is a New Age guru-type who runs a sort of 1960s style institute or commune, and clearly is a narcissist. Then her sister, Athena, is a webcam girl doing porn who is off her medication and living free. Not to mention the fact their father named both her and her sister Antigone and Athena. So, Ani drinks, gambles, and raids houses to find out where her sister is when she feels like it. Also, her boyfriend is not exactly the sexually adventurous type when Ani clearly surprises him with something in the bedroom he couldn’t handle straight away. She is a dominant woman; she carries knives all over her, making clear in the next episode this is because she has no illusions about certain female-male situations where she will be physically smaller than a larger man in which the knives will come more than in handy. There is no doubt the years living in the cult with daddy brought on issues, most likely from some kind of abuse, but we can never be sure. Perhaps she’s just a smart, cautious woman who has seen too much. Either way, I’m excited this season has a lead female character and one who is also in the police. Offers a great new perspective for the show.
Officer Paul Woodrugh [Taylor Kitsch] is another interesting character. Clearly Paul is a troubled man. He worked for Black Mountain Security in Iraq, obviously mimicking a similarly named military contractor, and has issues from what he calls “the desert”. It isn’t hard to see Woodrugh has issues with his sexuality; he sneaks a blue pill while claiming to be showering and taking far longer than necessary before trying to have sex with his girlfriend, then when she is going down on him Paul looks off into space as if troubled, maybe trying to concentrate so that he’s able to get an erection. This becomes even more clear in the second episode with a comment he makes to another detective. Furthermore, Paul obviously has deeper issues – he speeds out on the highway on his motorcycle, flicking off the headlight and rushing through the darkness, almost daring death to come and get him. I can’t wait to see more of him. Kitsch is a talent, and I don’t care what anyone says. Given the right material with this character I can see Kitsch doing excellent work this season.
Vince Vaughn as Frank Semyon spit out the worst line by far of the entire show since the first series began, along the lines of “don’t do anything out of hunger – not even eating”. Now I’ll give it to you – some of Rust Cohle’s lines, which personally I loved, were equally batty, but Matthew McConaughey was able to let them roll off his tongue and out of his mouth like they were natural to that character. Vaughn is good, I dig him, even as Semyon. I just didn’t dig that line. I can buy Vaughn as that character, totally, because he isn’t an outright psychotic gangster type like something out of Goodfellas with Henry Hill’s outbursts or the violence of Joe Pesci – I buy Vaughn as a collected, calm business sort of crook, and sure, he’s a big guy, I bet he can lay hands. Mainly, I think his attitude suits the part. However, that line in his mouth sounded like garbage. Moving past that point, Vaughn was great, and he does the dark/brooding thing well. Given more time the character of Frank will grow on people, I believe.
Mainly people need to lay off this season, and forget about the first, in the sense that this is an anthologized show. There is no continuity other than it involves police work; that’s it. Once again, there are existential themes at play here, heavily. We just need to keep in mind – existential doesn’t mean that people have to constantly spout philosophical musings. That was a character Pizzolatto used, and it worked. This season is different. Existentialism has to do with human beings, the experience of existence and reality, and the touch of humans on existence. So we’re going to see how human beings deal with their terrible inner demons, and this season we’re going to see more about the abuse of power from the perspective of those abusing it mainly instead of solely from the perspective of those outside and looking in. The police here are good police, but they toe a dangerous lines, more so than anything Rust Cohle did in Season One. I can’t wait for the next episode.
BackWoods. 2006. Dir. Koldo Serra. Screenplay by Serra & Jon Sagalá.
Starring Gary Oldman, Virginie Ledoyen, Paddy Considine, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Jon Ariño, Lluís Homar, and Kandido Uranga. Lionsgate.
Rated 14A. 97 minutes.
★1/2 (DVD release)
This is one of those films I may never have heard of, if only maybe for a late night search spree on lesser known Gary Oldman flicks, except for the fact I stumbled across it in a $5 bin at a local rental place a few years back; in fact, the disc still has the store’s sticker on it to this day. I saw it, realised that not only was Oldman in it but also Paddy Considine of whom I’m a really big fan, and snatched it up quickly. Turns out it wasn’t just a decent little snag for five bucks. It’s a quality movie. An old school backwoods style thriller. There are times it not only feels set in the 1970s, I truly felt a lot of moments could’ve almost been filmed back then, as well. There’s certainly moments of homage towards both John Boorman’s classic Deliverance, as well as Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 dramatic revenge thriller Straw Dogs. Mainly there’s just a really great nostalgic feel about the story and the setting, which comes across quite well.
BackWoods sees two couples, Paul (Oldman) and Isabel (Sánchez-Gijón), as well as Norman (Considine) and Lucy (Ledoyen), venturing into the Spanish back country. Paul and Isabel now live in the Basque region after they married. Norman, and his young wife Isabel, are heading to visit. An idyllic vacation in the forest turns to a nightmarish situation when Paul and Norman stumble across a deformed little girl who has been locked up in a small shed-like structure, pad locked and hidden away. They bring her back to Paul and Isabel’s home in the woods. But not long after, local men from the village show up looking for the girl, and all is not as it seems in the quaint little pocket of Spain. Paul and Norman find themselves facing a desperate and brutal situation, fighting for their lives, as well as those of their wives.
This goes down some of the same roads we see in Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. Specifically, the character of Norman is really pushed to his limits here. Initially even the sight of a rabbit being killed by Paul is shocking to him; there’s a lingering shot of Considine looking fairly troubled by watching the rabbit die. However, Paul tells his friend something which resonates through the whole film – “there are hunters and prey, Norman… it‘s the only fucking truth in this world.” While Paul understands the human nature of hunter and prey, Norman doesn’t quite get it. His rude awakening comes later in the film when the men coming to look for the deformed girl appear to be more ruthless than he could have ever imagined. It’s a really great way to introduce these themes, all starting with just a tiny little rabbit. Nice touch.
I really enjoy how this film stayed mostly as a dramatic thriller. It had a few little elements of horror (the backwoods ‘battle’ between city folk & villagers + the deformed girl locked away in the woods/ et cetera), but it didn’t stray into full on terror or anything. This works really nicely as a 1970s style thriller. It’s also particularly performance driven, as opposed to plot. While the plot is deceptively simple, the characters here are rich and very full.
For instance, Oldman’s character Paul is a pretty diverse character. There is a lot to him. I get the feeling he sort of went out living in the forest with his wife as a kind of challenge. One aspect I enjoyed once the villagers lay siege on Paul and the others is how there was so much tension between the two sides. On one hand, Paul feels he belongs there, and he does because he already lives there; he made it his home. The other side, the villagers, see him still as an outsider. Worse still, he has clearly wandered into their world. He is not one of them, regardless of how well he hunts and navigates the male-dominated world of the villagers.
This leads me to another part of BackWoods I enjoyed a lot. Whereas a lot of films might have taken up a portion of the running time drawing out the deformed girl’s story, rounding things out and maybe giving her some kind of history, Koldo Serra leaves intrigue to spare. We don’t get any definitive answers on what exactly the deformed girl is doing out in the woods, in the sense of who she is or where she came from – it’s simply a plot element. It sets up the city versus nature theme running throughout the film, which ultimately drives Oldman’s character. Norman, Considine’s character, is also affected by this theme, as he is even less of the “back country” type than Paul. He is even more thrown into chaos because of how far removed from that lifestyle living in the city keeps him. There’s even a scene where Norman raises his gun to kill a rabbit of his own – ultimately, he is unable to actually pull the trigger. This sets the stage for the real burning question to come later – can he pull the trigger when it’s more than a rabbit staring down the barrel of his rifle? We get the answer later in a very tense, horrifying scene. Of course, what happens then sets off a whole other chain of events.
The entire presentation of these themes is really well done, and made the film more than just a backwoods thriller. It lifted this from out of simple genre fare. This could very well have been some exploitation film, a cheap grindhouse style movie. Instead, it becomes a tension-filled dramatic thriller.
For the most part, a lot of BackWoods surprised me. I figured it might go down the same road as similar films. Instead, it subverts a few of my expectations. For instance, the scene where Norman is finally forced to either pull the trigger, or else face possibly terrible consequences, I really didn’t expect it to pan out the way it ended up going. I was happy because I thought Norman wasn’t going to change whatsoever as a character. His actions both change him and create more issues for his character to deal with. It’s really great stuff.
The ending, as well, was not something I particularly saw coming.
This can safely be categorised as a 4 out of 5 star film. There isn’t a whole lot wrong with it, but it’s not perfect whatsoever. I think Gary Oldman and Paddy Considine did a really wonderful job fleshing out the characters they portrayed. Particularly, Oldman gives a strong and emotional performance, unlike a lot of the roles I often enjoy him in, and I don’t know how more people don’t talk about this one, or at least mention it in passing – solid lesser seen role by Oldman. There are also a couple excellently paced chase sequences which help move the film along nicely. The pacing was helped by how the plot never gets too bogged down in one area, however, that’s also a drawback – I wanted to know more about Paul and Isabel because it seemed there was more to their relationship than what we were given. While sometimes it’s nice when less is more, there are case, like BackWoods, where I could have even done with an extra few scenes just to really give us a portrait of their lives. Oldman does such a spectacular job with his character, I feel even more justice might’ve been done to the film in general had they provided more insight.
Regardless, BackWoods is a pleasant surprise. When a lot of tripe gets doled out in terms of thriller films, this is a refreshing little movie that doesn’t go down all the expected routes.
While the DVD is fairly lame, providing only the film itself (though the picture/sound is beautiful & it looks gorgeous in widescreen) and a trailer, I highly would recommend anybody who can get their hands on a copy of the film do so – it is worth your time. I don’t watch it often, when I do I’m always impressed with the thrill it provides. If you’re a fan of Oldman, Considine, or just those gritty 1970s revenge thrillers in the vein of Straw Dogs and the backwoods city versus nature themes found in classics like Deliverance & even less praised titles like Southern Comfort, this will no doubt quench your thirst. You can do far worse for a movie night than BackWoods.