Can 'True Detective' Overpower 'The Notebook'?

Which role do you think of when you think about Rachel McAdams? If you’re a regular resident of the social media world, all signs would point to Regina George from Mean Girls, her teenage lioness in the cult hit. If you’re a college sophomore, the posters on your dorm room wall might suggest Claire Cleary: her somewhat acerbic do-gooder leading lady in the broad comedy Wedding Crashers. And, if you have a particular affinity for movies where women fall in love with men who can manipulate the space-time continuum, then… well, you’ve got options: her characters in The Time Traveler’s Wife and About Time should meet your needs. But if you’re working for Hollywood, the answer is clear — when you look at Rachel McAdams, all you seem to see is Allie Hamilton from The Notebook. And hopefully watching McAdams on True Detective will change that.

There’s nothing wrong with favoring The Notebook among McAdams’ performances. What’s troublesome is that Hollywood has, ever since, seemed to zero in on the picture as a set of guidelines for what the actress in question can and cannot do. It’s not particularly surprising that a movie as fervently adored as the 2004 Nicholas Sparks film might lay the way for a period of typecasting, especially sitting so early in the filmography of its lead actress. But 11 years later, McAdams has won only occasional respites from the antic.

Those breaks from routine have not done much to steer McAdams off course; every Married Life and A Most Wanted Man has been overshadowed by a Morning Glory or a The Vow. What McAdams has long needed is a high-profile project that shifts gears dramatically enough to promise total reinvention of her persona. In this day and age, the like can only come about on television: enter True Detective.

All we’ve seen from the new season of True Detective so far is a collection of quick, ambiguous, silent second-long glimpses at the headlining stars (McAdams, her Wedding Crashers costar Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell, and Taylor Kitsch). But, from even just that, and everything we can expect to carry over from the HBO series’ majestic first season, we already know that McAdams will be entertaining a tone that most audiences have yet to see her brave.

Brandishing a gun in one shot of the aforesaid teaser, McAdams blows through her romantic heroine connotation. Her character is described as a drinker and a gambler, but nonetheless a devoted police officer, who’ll no doubt get ensnared in whatever dark and convoluted case this string of episodes has to offer.

Though True Detective was not Matthew McConaughey’s sole tool in the construction of a new image, it was certainly comparable in significance to his Oscar-winning performance in Dallas Buyers Club. The big screen is still where actors go to first make names for themselves. But, in this age when television is, uniquely, matching cinema in artistic esteem (and bolstered in its reach thanks simply to accessibility), a series like True Detective could well be the only way for an established actor to make a new name for himself. Case in point: McConaughey. Next on the docket: McAdams, who, though charming as all hell in her romance-themed project, deserves the opportunity to show that she’s got a lot more she’s capable of doing.

Images: HBO (2); New Line Cinema