Screens: HBO

What If Taylor Kitsch And Vince Vaughn Switched True Detective Roles?

In Sarah D. Bunting's alternate universe, Riggins is the kingpin, and the show is better for it.

I thought, after a somewhat rocky premiere, that Vince Vaughn would settle into the role of Frank Semyon. I liked the casting when it was first announced; I wanted it to succeed, and though it isn't succeeding for me, I don't think Vaughn is incapable. If anything, he's not getting the correct direction, not to mention that Nic Pizzolatto keeps giving him lines he's not comfortable enough in Semyon's skin to sell, but I can't help thinking he could get centered over the ball of the performance if the director(s) told him to do an imitation...of Taylor Kitsch.

Kitsch is better suited to the Semyon role, in my opinion, and you could make the argument that he's too young, but that wouldn't trouble me. He's already lit and shot to look rather haggard and worn; a little grey at the temples, done. What's more, the idea that consolidating power and taking it to the legit side of the aisle is reserved for guys in middle age is just that -- an idea, not a rule. Pacino played the, uh, godfather of gangster-goes-legit roles in Godfather II at age 34; Kitsch is also 34.

Kitsch is also much heavier in his presence than Vaughn. I think this is frequently interpreted as limited, but I don't necessarily agree -- he gets a lot into small movements -- and what might seem like a Keanoid blankness has a lot to recommend it, because we get to fill in that blank. Certainly it's given Keanu's career a longevity we might not have predicted based on Bill & Ted's. I think Kitsch may also get typecast a lot based on that still-water impassivity. His Woodrugh has a lot in common with Heath Ledger's Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain, not just the unwelcome love he may feel or have expressed towards another man but a native disinclination to express much of anything. Ledger was a different sort of actor, and now that I mention him, contemplating the comfy hay he might have made out of a True Detective turn makes me miss him quite sharply, but Kitsch is perfectly capable of communicating the emotions of a man who prefers to maintain radio silence with his.

That quality strikes me as more strongly indicated for Semyon than the jumpy, irascible way Vaughn is playing him. Santos's dismissive "you're tall, but you're really little" is exactly right, and my issue with Vaughn's performance in a nutshell: he's physically imposing, but what he's projecting as Semyon is a constant, draining effort to remain still. Vaughn in other roles is in continuous motion, cocking his head, fluttering his hands, bouncing -- Made, Swingers, he's jiggling around. I don't buy him as a lizard-blooded boss who ascended to power by running nightclubs, drugs, girls, and California unions and arranging for rapists to get killed, who is preparing to defraud at least one Cabinet department as a means of cleaning his lucre. There is a lack of weight and confidence coming from Vaughn that is essential to make the character credible, and it's not that Vaughn's trademark roles are comedic. Like I said, it's not a matter of aptitude. But even at half a foot shorter, Kitsch is much more likely to get me to believe without even speaking that he knows where my family lives and will start ending them single file if he doesn't get what he wants than Vaughn is, no matter how many performative beatings he puts on Santos and his FUCK YOU grill. (RIP the FUCK YOU grill, by the way. I was kind of hoping Santos had a bunch of them, like BIRTHDAY and BLESSED, and we'd get to see different ones.)

On the other hand, I would love to see Vaughn as Woodrugh. I would love to see a take on the veteran -- possibly with PTSD, possibly "just" in the closet, possibly the former partly thanks to the latter -- who doesn't bottle it up, who can't, who's a clattery overtalking plate of scrambled mess. It's entirely possible that's not credible to combat vets, but it's something different, and while I don't think Kitsch is "bad" in the circuit-party scene, looking all around like a treed cat and downing double whiskeys, I also don't think that character gets quite that jumpy in that situation...and I think Vaughn's usual bag of we-bad-we-bad tics is kind of perfect there. Vaughn has also busted out an injured look several times, seen in the header, that's great for Woodrugh but off-putting for Semyon. Woodrugh is still a big departure for Vaughn, acting-wise, and I think it plays to his strengths better without seeming like typecasting.

Vaughn's performance isn't getting it done for me. The reasons why that might be did me the favor of occupying my mind during the well-acted but on-the-nose father-son shite with Colin Farrell and Fred Ward; Farrell is cast correctly and making it fun for me with his line deliveries ("You know: like cops use?"). But I'd have way more fun with the show if it flipped Vaughn and Kitsch's parts...or Vaughn and Farrell's, for that matter, because, though it's for different reasons, I would also believe that Farrell as Semyon is capable of sweatless, regretless violence. Semyon as acted by Vaughn could only annoy me to death with the attacks of petulance; a show as self-serious as True Detective can't afford that.

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