After True Detective capped off a surging comeback narrative for Matthew McConaughey, HBO seems determined to run the crime serial like a Tarantino-esque career reclamation project, announcing today that the seen-better-days duo of Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell will topline the show's second season. Both actors’ involvement had been rumored for weeks, but Twitter users still reacted to the news with outrage, as is their wont. Some of the most retweeted criticisms are legitimate: Do we really need even more white dudes playing morally conflicted characters on acclaimed cable dramas? But there also seems to be a prevailing sentiment that Vaughn and Farrell aren’t talented enough for this show, and there, I disagree. Both men are good actors when they want to be, and I suspect they will want to be for this, the most scrutinized gig that either of them has landed in quite a while.
To be sure, I can understand the skepticism directed at Vince Vaughn: No contemporary comic actor this side of Adam Sandler has done more to give off the impression that he is doing very little, and for years, Vaughn has coasted through a series of subpar studio movies while delivering the filmed equivalent of a shrug emoticon. Couples Retreat? The Dilemma? The Delivery Man? It was a whole world of no. The Internship was supposed to be Vaughn’s triumphant Wedding Crashers reunion with Owen Wilson; instead, it was one of last summer’s biggest flops. Vaughn’s screen nadir may have been his CG-aided cameo in last year’s Anchorman 2, where a conspicuous, airbrushed mist floated over his face to mask the puffy cheeks and droopy eye bags Vaughn started to accrue when he realized he could let himself go and get away with it. Once wiry and handsome, why would he continue working out (or working hard) if the paychecks would keep rolling in regardless?
That dissolute countenance may actually work in Vaughn’s favor on True Detective, where he’s been cast as a career criminal who tries to straighten up his act. (A murder inevitably complicates that plan.) Something tells me that Vaughn can play a dude who’s spent his life taking easy, sleazy money, only to find in his comfortable, hollow mid-40s that he wants to do something legitimate for once. And the notion of casting Vaughn as this show’s complicated antagonist could really pay off if the 44-year-old actor can reconnect with the sense of danger that used to power his comic improvisations. When Vaughn first came on the scene in Swingers, barking his staccato-sharp lines in an almost menacingly funny way, you got the feeling he could and would say anything. Signing onto True Detective is the first career move Vaughn has made in ages that feels as unpredictable as he used to be.
Colin Farrell, meanwhile, has continued being a terrific actor, albeit in films that not too many people have seen. He was movie-savingly terrific, for example, in Peter Weir’s 2011 drama The Way Back, a grim slog of a film enlivened whenever Farrell appears as a threatening, yet weirdly soulful, Russian prisoner. That film didn’t even make it to $3 million, so many more people associate Farrell with the studio gigs that have little use for his natural charisma, like the recent, anodyne remake of Total Recall. Farrell did get to cut loose in Horrible Bosses, but he was so disguised in the film (and dispatched so early) that people have seemingly forgot he had a supporting role in it, and while he was appealing in Saving Mr. Banks, he was trapped in a series of flashbacks that were misconceived from the get-go. True Detective, then, should serve as an excellent example of what Colin Farrell is capable of.
In any case, both Vaughn and Farrell can console themselves with knowing that today's furor isn't entirely of their own making. In recent weeks, the worm has turned on True Detective; there was always going to be a comedown from a first season that was so acclaimed, but a combination of factors have seemingly hastened that process, including a series of combative articles about the show's creator, Nic Pizzolatto; an ongoing conversation about the show's treatment of women (which was only exacerbated when today's announcement lacked a female lead); and the now-tangible loss of series director Cary Fukunaga, who was hailed as the swoon-worthy flip side to the brusque Pizzolatto after he won an Emmy last month. The public and punditry who once welcomed True Detective with open arms now stand skeptically with those arms folded, and that's a problem for HBO that will take more than the addition of Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell to solve.