The Little Things screenwriter and director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side and The Founder) first drafted the film’s script in 1993, before being encouraged to look at it again a few years ago.
Perhaps if it had gone into production when he wrote all those decades ago, this project might have felt fresh and fun to cinemagoers. However, for 2021 viewers, something about the story ends up feeling a bit dated and uninspired.
The film follows Kern County Deputy Sheriff Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon (Denzel Washington) as he’s sent to Los Angles for what was meant to be a simple evidence-gathering assignment. However, he soon gets intrigued by the search for a serial killer who has been terrorizing the city.
L.A. Sheriff Department Sergeant Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) has unsuccessfully been leading the search for the killer and is about to have the case taken away from him. Impressed by Deke’s reputation as a great detective, he hopes to team up so that Deke’s instincts can help him find the missing pieces to the puzzle.
What Baxter doesn’t realise is just how much this case mirrors another from Deke’s past, and the dark secrets the deputy sheriff is still haunted by as a result.
The Little Things perfectly fits into the category of slick neo-noir thrillers that focus on flawed men trying to tackle the perpetrators of extreme crimes. Trouble is, it doesn’t do much to add to the many films that have already found success in this genre.
What this film does have working in its favor is the familiarity of its stellar ensemble cast. As any Denzel Washington fan would expect, the actor delivers a near-flawless performance. It’s Denzel Washington, after all!
Sadly, just because Washington is in a film doesn’t mean the project is worthy of the work he delivers. The actor and Malek do their best to work with the script in forced moments where they throw out wisecracks at each other until the inevitable moment they finally start to realize they have more in common than they thought.
Watching the new breed of cop take on the old charge is nothing new on the big or small screen, so it’s harder to enjoy the films attempt to take a slow and realistic approach to the pair’s investigation. Dead end leads, steak-outs fails and other frustrating moments all help to build up tension, yet it wouldn’t have hurt to make things a bit more entertaining at times.
However, fun and intrigue comes in the form of Jared Leto as lead suspect Albert Sparma. The actor takes clear delight in bringing yet another sinister character to life – one who revels in the interest he is receiving from Washington and Malek’s case-obsessed cops.
Leto loves nothing more than taking Christina Bale-lengths to transform into his characters and Sparma might be one of his best yet. From his unhealthy appearance, greasy hair and distinctive walk, everything about this guy seems to scream the word, creep.
As he teases Washington and Malek’s characters, the film really hits it stride thanks to the enjoyable interactions between this trio of award-winning actors. Though all the captivating performances in the world isn’t enough to shake off the feeling of disappointment when the film ends.
In fact, the focus on the men is another sign of the times in which the film was first drafted. All the women in this film are very much secondary figures who fit the usual stereotypes such as concerned wife, estranged ex, co-workers, and victims.
The Little Things constantly reminds us that it’s the small elements of a big puzzle that can make all the difference.
Sadly, for this film, the little thing viewers won’t be able to recover from is the unsatisfying ending. Nor the ever-present sense of déjà vu which haunts the project just as much as the murders Deke struggles to shake off.
The Little Things is out now in the UK and available to stream on HBO Max in the US.