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Telling the Story Blow By Blow: True Detective

February 20, 2015

The eternal question: How short can a fight be and still get its story across, not just to people who are looking to read the fight like a book, but to a general audience?

Take this fight from my latest obsession, True Detective. Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey are amazing as homicide detectives Marty Hart and Rustin Cohle, who are partners but not exactly friends…


(Edited to add, after this post was linked in an excellent article on methods of recording fight choreography, that this is my own write-up of the scene, done from the video.)

EXT DAY, police station parking lot. Hand-held camera. COHLE, in a plaid flannel and khakis, walks toward the station, looking grim. HART, having left his gun, badge, rings, jacket, and tie behind, bursts from the door and runs for COHLE, who holds his hands out to the side.

Just comin’ for my files, Marty.

HART barrels into COHLE, shoulder in his gut, and they go down to the pavement rather spectacularly — COHLE’s feet fly off the ground, his right arm reaches down to catch himself, and they land with a heavy grunt. HART, kneeling/crouching between COHLE’s legs, punches him in the face, right-left-right, before COHLE grabs his lapels and shoves him back, then gets his feet on HART’s stomach and throws him off. They scramble up.

MAN (O.S.)
Stop this shit.

HART aims a left at COHLE, who bobs out of the way, but HART’s following right catches him in the eye. COHLE tries to close and grapple to defuse HART’s punching power, but HART uppercuts him in the stomach. They struggle briefly, COHLE gaining the upper hand. COHLE returns the gut-punch and throws HART over his hip. (For those of us counting, there is an unexplained knap at this moment.) HART rises and squares off again.

MAN (O.S.)
Swing, Marty! You’re gettin’ your ass kicked.

HART gets COHLE with a right, and another, but COHLE dodges the third and lets HART’s own momentum take him to the ground.

Stop them! Stop!

HART rushes COHLE again; COHLE sidesteps, grabs HART, and sends him slamming into the back of a red pickup. (COHLE’s truck, as it happens.) HART is nearly horizontal when he hits, and he falls hard on the pavement, face down. COHLE puts out a warning hand.

Stay down, Marty.

Get up!

MAN (O.S.)
Calm down, Marty! That’s enough.

HART gets up and gives COHLE another big, flying punch in the face. COHLE closes with HART and gets him into a joint lock, forcing HART’s doubled-over left wrist to the outside of his left shoulder. Just then, the cavalry arrives and many burly arms pull them apart. Three guys hang onto a struggling, wild-eyed HART, while COHLE backs away and keeps his hands up where everyone can see them. The left side of his face is a bloody mess.

So, in this forty-five second fight, Hart punches Cohle eight times, seven of those in the face. Cohle puts distance between them four times and punches Hart only once.

If you had to guess, who’s the more trained fighter? And who slept with whose wife?


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