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The Big “True Detective” Influence Nobody Is Talking About

Rust Cohle is no Ryan Gosling. But the style of True Detective is driven by Drive.

While 2011’s Drive was never a massive mainstream hit, the Ryan Gosling vehicle (get it?) developed a massive cult following for its unique, stylized, and just plain cool atmosphere. True Detective is a completely different experience, with none of the film’s cartoonish imagery, dance floor beats and minimalist dialogue (seriously, Matthew McConaughey’s endless monologues may be the exact opposite of Ryan Gosling’s endless stares). But the show consistently mirrors Drive’s slow-burn intensity, smooth cinematography, ambient soundtrack and tone.

3. Late Night Rides

This scene, from True Detective’s second episode, marks the first and most obvious parallel to Refn’s film. Rust Cohle cruises down a Louisiana highway, framed by a surrealist set of neon streetlights, as booming synthesizers pulse in the background.

It’s essentially a direct reference to the style of Drive, which featured this type of sound and imagery throughout.

5. Overhead Tracking Shots

Cohl’s nighttime hallucinations aren’t an exception - cars and roads in general are pretty heavily featured throughout True Detective, often with swooping, hovering tracking shots.

Drive was loaded with these scene-setting, bird’s-eye shots, featuring them heavily in the opening credits (pink cursive was all the rage in 2011).

7. Still, it would be silly to say “True Detective is heavily influenced by Drive because both use overhead tracking shots of cars.” It’s much more than that.

8. Drifting Through Time

In “The Secret Fate of All Life,” Rust and Marty directly lie to their 2012 questioners, as the scene gracefully cuts between static shots of their answers and floating images of their actual adventure.

This montage from Drive is used to cut between phone calls and action, losing all logical sense of time and instead telling the story in one broad, sweeping motion.

True Detective, throughout the season, has followed a similar approach for its flashback structure, cutting between shots of the present and the past without any linear passageway but instead with a free-flowing format, and the constant flow of the Steadicam accentuates that effect.

11. The Music

This pervasive intensity, these hovering images, they’re all connected and accentuated by one thing - music. While it’s easy to show the visual parallels with GIFs, it’s a little bit tougher to show the sonic similarities. Still, let’s take a listen.

The soundtrack of Drive became known for a series of new-wave, heavily synthesized electro-pop songs like “A Real Hero,” “Nightcall,” and “Tick Of The Clock.” But the film’s score was ultimately defined by the persistent buzz of Cliff Martinez’s ambient, wordless score. Jump to 3:03 to see what I’m talking about.

Similarly, the discussion about True Detective’s music has focused around its incorporation of cleverly chosen, down-home southern songs that perfectly match the show’s locale. But the series does have a composed score (from songwriter T Bone Burnett), and it’s got much of the same buzzing, pulsing synths and gloomy mood of Drive’s atmospheric sounds. Skip ahead to 2:00 to get a taste.

13. The Moments

The “rave scene” above is one of a few True Detective moments that directly echoes crucial scenes from Drive, when Gosling’s driver wanders into a hidden, members-only strip club to viciously interrogate a villain (be careful - lots of naked women make this very NSFW).

Even True Detective’s most famous moment to date, a stellar six-minute tracking shot of a heist gone wrong, brings to mind the climactic failed heist of Drive. While Gosling’s character uses a ticking clock to track the robbery’s success, Cohl counts out loud, trying to calmly mention the time-frame: “30 seconds, in and out…30 seconds, in and out.” In both scenes, insane tension mounts until a single gunshot sends both situations spiraling out of control. The Drive scene isn’t anywhere on YouTube, but the True Detective shot is always worth watching again anyway.

15. Obviously, True Detective isn’t trying to be Drive. It’s completely different, and extremely unique. But if Sunday’s finale ends with Rust kissing Maggie in an elevator before beating Marty to a bloody pulp, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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