Kali Reis delivers a knockout performance in ‘True Detective: Night Country’

“True Detective: Night Country” had all the ingredients necessary to rope in viewers. It was the first new season of HBO’s Emmy-winning crime anthology in five years.

It was also the first to feature women as its protagonists. And it marked two-time Oscar winner Jodie Foster’s first foray into television in nearly half a century. But what made this latest season truly notable was the breakout and Emmy-worthy performance delivered by Kali Reis — in only her third acting role — as Evangeline Navarro, a determined but haunted Alaskan trooper investigating a mysterious homicide and struggling with her past and her culture.

The central crime of the season centers around a group of scientists who are found naked and frozen to death in the Alaskan tundra. The investigation is revealed to have a connection with the previously unsolved murder of an activist and midwife, a case that continues to haunt Navarro. The cases force Navarro to collaborate with local police chief Carol Danvers (Foster),

Before acting, Reis was a championship boxer, so it’s no surprise that she imbues Navarro with strength and confidence. However, Navarro is also fighting her own demons: a mother lost to mental illness and a sister struggling with the same issues. All of this occurs as Navarro tries to reconcile issues of her own heritage and identity.

Reis deftly balances each one of these complex characteristics, creating a character whose pain is always just below the surface. In her scenes where Navarro finally lets down her guard, Reis never goes overboard. Navarro’s grief and despair are palpable, but never histrionic.

Reis has an outstanding acting showcase in the season’s fourth episode, where Navarro is at her lowest both emotionally and physically. Following the suicide of her sister, Navarro angrily picks a fight with a spousal abuser, only to be brutally beaten by the man and his friends. Later, Navarro confesses to Danvers that she feels that there is a curse on her family and that that curse has now fallen upon her.

Reis really gets to flex her acting muscles in this episode, traversing emotions from rage to despair. In her scenes with Foster, you can almost see Navarro begin to crumble under the strain. It’s a beautiful and haunting performance.

True Detective star Kali Reis: 'I got accused of my character being a  rapist! What century do we live in?' | The Independent

It is also no small feat that Reis more than holds her own opposite Foster. These two characters have a complex and fractious history, and their scenes have a palpable push and pull. It’s a credit to Reis that even though Foster gets top billing, it is Reis who consistently captures focus. That’s an accomplishment that deserves consideration for an Emmy nomination.

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