True Detective Gives Colin Farrell a Fighting Chance

He’s a great actor with too many bad movies on his IMDB page. That changes now.

Colin Farrell has always belonged on television. The Irish actor may have a movie star face, but he seems out of place in big-budget films. In 2004’s Alexander, he looked ready to unwrap his toga and show off a Slayer concert tee. In the Total Recall reboot, he seemed like he was doing an impression of Woody Allen doing an impression of Tom Cruise. In this year’s Winter’s Tale, he moved like a poorly operated marionette. His guest turn on Scrubs in 2005 was more memorable than any of those roles. Seriously. With all the big budget effects stripped away, the audience could enjoy his manic charisma, that eagerness to please and willingness to disappoint bundled together between his eyebrows. Farrell is the ultimate foil to Zach Braff. Everything about him is threatening.

HBO’s decision to cast Farrell as a lead in the second season of HBO’s True Detective is good for audiences and better for Farrell, who’s best movie by far was a meandering look at an unlikely pair of gunslingers confronting the abyss. In Bruges was not a huge box office success – nor was Seven Psychopaths, Farrell and writer/director Martin McDonagh’s follow up – but it was a creative triumph. As a criminal dealing with the emotional toll of having accidentally killed a child, Farrell alternated between easy and impossible to look at. Rather than mourning his way through the movie, he bounced through Belgium like a deflating basketball, ultimately collapsing beneath the weight of his textured exterior. Farrell does existential as well as he doesn’t do high concept. 

The temptation would be to believe that Farrell is replacing Matthew McConaughey, a pretty boy looking to put the romantic comedies behind him. Hopefully that’s not the case. As an actor, Farrell has a lot more in common with Woody Harrelson – just look at them together in Psychopaths. They both run between extremes, seem uncomfortable in leading man mode and look like they arrived on set after a bar fight. Like Harrelson, Farrell can’t help but undermine productions. He’s funny when he shouldn’t be and gives bizarre line readings (“Leave it fatty“). Those instincts will prove important for True Detective, which is self-serious to the point of self-parody. 

If all goes well, Farrell will be born again in the fires of Season Two, which will be set in Los Angeles. And what happens on the other side of the series will be as interesting as the mystery itself. If he gives a great performance, Farrell might finally have the chance to do whatever he wants. We don’t know what that looks like, but we want to find out.

Photos by Chuck Zlotnick / CBS Films / Everett Collection