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Climactic closing scene from HBO’s True Detective S01E04 – dare we call it a cinematic masterpiece?

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HBO's True Detective television series

There’s a lot of buzz going around about the climactic scene from Episode 4 of HBO’s new series True Detective.  The complicated, single 6-minute tracking shot follows Rust Cohle (played by Matthew McConaughey) fleeing the scene through two homes and the streets of a ghetto in an attempt to make it to the safety of his partner’s (Martin Hart played by Woody Harrelson) car.  To film the scene was no small feat – it required detailed mapping, well-planned traffic control, minute-by-minute placement of nearly a hundred extras, timed special effects, on-the-fly setup of camera tracks, and expert choreography to pull off.  The result – a tremendous technical achievement and phenomenal feat of filmmaking that left fans of the show gasping for air.

Director Cary Joji Fukinaga explained the complexities of the scene to MTV:

“We had assistant directors all over the neighborhood because we had to release extras, crowd running background, police cars, stunt drivers. There were actual gun shots and stones being thrown through windows. There were a lot of things to put together. Even the action, the stunt sequences were complicated. We’re working on a television schedule. It isn’t like a film where you can spend a lot of time working the stunts out with the actors. We only had a day and a half to get Matthew and everyone else on the same page.”

For those new to True Detective, HBO’s new series is one of the best “intelligent” television series on TV, one which requires you remove all distractions and pay careful attention lest you’ll find yourself rewinding to figure out what just happened (it’s one of those shows where you’ll discover yourself staring at the screen, lost, and realizing that you just spent the last five minutes in a daze thinking about the previous scene you just witnessed).

True Detective follows a quirky Detective Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and his straight-and-narrow partner Detective Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) during their hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana.  Similar to American Horror Story, the first season will consist of 8 episodes which tell a complete story arc while season two will feature a new cast and completely new storyline.  The show is as much a refreshing piece-by-piece examination of the interesting (and odd) characters as it is a crime-solving detective story.

The show’s timeline spans seventeen years.  In “present day” (2012) we watch police detectives interviewing the quirky Cohle and troubled Hart about the unusual 1995 case, a ritualistic murder of former prostitute Dora Lange in which the victim was found with an odd symbol painted on her back and wearing a “crown” of deer antlers, blindfolded, and posed as if praying.  Apparently something went dramatically wrong with the investigation and layer-by-layer, we watch as the investigation unfolds to reveal the killer.  Meanwhile, flashbacks to 1995 let us watch Cohle and Hart working the case while flashbacks to 2002 show a period when Cohle and Hart had some sort of friendship-ending “falling out”.

Prefacing the scene from Who Goes There (S01E04), Cohle and Hart are closing down on the serial killer.  They know his identity but being a “swamp person and off the grid”, they are unable to find him.  They discover that he is manufacturing drugs for a biker gang from hell, the Iron Crusaders, and Cohle decides to return to his old undercover role, befriend the leader of the gang (whom he was friends with in an undercover role many years prior), and wrangle the identity of the serial killer suspect from them.  Cohle leaves Hart with a burner phone that he will call if anything goes wrong (“Make sure it stays charged!”).  After working his way into the biker’s private club, Cohle attempts to convince the leader of the gang to divulge the identity of his supplier (who we know is the serial killer).  The leader agrees – if Cohle will help him make a “run” and assist in the robbery of a drug house in the ghetto.  Cohle, fearful there could be bloodshed (he’s a cop after all), reluctantly agrees.  Meanwhile, Hart has lost track of Cohle and begins to worry something may have gone wrong and indeed it has – the gang has fueled Cohle with drugs (meth and cocaine) and in a drug-addled state, he struggles to maintain his undercover identity.  Hart drives to Beaumont, Texas, the general area he presumes Cohle is in.  We pick up there with this scene leading up to the drug-house robbery.   In the car are a captured member of the ghetto gang and three bikers (who think they are “disguised” as policemen).

Watch the full six-minute tracking shot below.

Closing scene from True Detective S02E04–Courtesy HBO

You can catch episodes 1 through 4 on HBO On Demand.

Sources: HBO