You probably have heard the news, as rumor if not confirmed fact: Colin Farrell is playing one of the leads in the second season of HBO's True Detective. Maybe he'll be alongside Taylor Kitsch, Vince Vaughn and Elisabeth Moss (who have all been rumored for other lead roles), or maybe it'll be a bunch of Care Bears, who knows? (The casting rumors are never-ending.) The more important question before us is: will this finally be what convinced everyone on Colin? Or will he remain one of the most oddly divisive movie stars around?
It's always felt like Farrell was on the verge of breaking, even when he was at the height of his stardom, and he's always taken flak as an actor whose stardom was based more on hype and red-carpet antics than the movies he delivered. After an arresting star turn in Joel Schumacher's Tigerland, he was slotted into starring roles in Hollywood garbage (American Outlaws, Hart's War) and a standout supporting role in Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, which came out in 2002 but is still Farrell's highest-earning film.
I should note that I write this article as a firm Colin Farrell "stan" (I hope I use this teen slang correctly). I've always loved his yakkety-yak charm in schlock like Tigerland and Phone Booth, and swooned over his A+ brooding in The New World and Miami Vice. Only once has he been able to charm and brood in the same project: Martin McDonagh's In Bruges, for which he won a Golden Globe in 2009. And with that, everyone figured Colin was finally going to start getting projects that might click with audiences and critics at the same time.
But for us Farrell fans, it's been the same plod through interesting but flawed smaller films like Seven Psychopaths and Triage, mediocre blockbusters like Total Recall and Dead Man Down, and Winter's Tale, which is insane enough to be put in its own "???" category. His most memorable work has come from supporting turns—he was a great villain in the Fright Night remake, the funniest part of the unfunny Horrible Bosses, an earthy country singer in Crazy Heart and a saintly but tormented dad in Saving Mr. Banks. The last two functioned as extended cameos more than anything, but also as reminders of how much he can do as an actor, even with little to no material.
Now, to say True Detective was responsible for re-launching Matthew McConaughey to respectability is outright libel—he already had laid the groundwork with his supporting turn in Magic Mike, collected his Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club and so on. But giving a transformative lead performance in the zeitgeisty premium drama of the season certainly didn't hurt.
In my ideal fantasy world, here's how it goes for Colin: True Detective season two is just as good, he gets awards attention, and this springboards into better and better roles for him. But in real Colin Farrell world, it probably means it'll get mixed reviews, some positive notes for his work, and a bunch of middling roles in bad films made by great directors. I keep hoping for the pattern to change. But for a long time Farrell making a well-regarded hit of a movie has been the exception, not the norm.