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Little mistakes add up to big problems for ‘The Little Things’

Little mistakes add up to big problems for ‘The Little Things’

Little mistakes add up to big problems for ‘The Little Things’
February 05
14:00 2021

“It’s the little things that are important, Jimmy. It’s the little things that… get you caught.”

For former Los Angeles Sherriff’s Department detective turned deputy sheriff Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel Washington) Los Angeles is a place of bad memories. One day in October 1990, he is sent to pick up files for an important court case. However, he catches wind of an active serial killer with a modus operandi similar to one he hunted five years prior. Accompanied by brash, young Detective Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek), he suspects Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) – a hollowed-out creep who knows a little too much. Is he their man? Why is everyone nervous around Deke? And why is he haunted by his last case?

The Little Things” is the newest thriller from writer-director John Lee Hancock, director of “The Blind Side,” “Saving Mr. Banks” and “The Founder” among others. It follows two detectives prowling the underbelly of 1990 Los Angeles. With the ever-incredible Washington giving his all as a haunted detective, Malek as his partner and Leto playing a role he was made for, does “The Little Things” deliver a sleek, pulse-pounding thriller?

Ehhhh.

There are a lot of problems with “The Little Things.” There are also some good things, especially because of Washington. He has always been the best at committing to a role with unyielding power and talent. Here, Washington excellently embodies a haunted soul – his mature exterior serving him well as someone who is thoroughly burned out. He gets under your skin as someone who is extraordinarily dedicated to what they do and has paid the price for it. Someone who does not want to do it, but knows they have to because they know how to do it.

Leto is also nerve-wracking, but in a different way as Albert Sparma. He is a sunken-eyed crime junkie who somehow knows a little too much about the killings, but he may just be a fascinated weirdo. It is easily Leto’s creepiest role since “Blade Runner 2049,” with Sparma looking like a bloated human corpse that has resisted complete decay so it can continue to limp around at night due to his infatuation with the case. Leto has this cold, yet amused delivery to all of his lines that add to the inhumanity of his character. He is legitimately one of the few antagonists that have truly disturbed me in the past few years.

Hancock’s cinematography is also pretty strong with just about every shot having a slick production value and a surprising “pop” to some of the colors. The transitions to flashbacks are also highlights – one scene utilizes Washington correcting a rearview mirror to shoot us right back into a crime scene. This is a stunning movie at times.

He also shows a strong grasp on atmosphere, excellently illustrating the seedy side of ’90s LA with good attention to period detail.

The last highlight is Thomas Newman’s shockingly good score. Consisting mostly of electronic ambiance and rhythmic progression, Newman focuses on loud thumps and dun duns to accentuate the darker turns while the more investigative moments have this bassline fluidly switching between meditative and sinister. All-in-all, it has a pretty solid score that may be worth picking up on its own.

“The Little Things” falls apart in a couple of ways – one of them being the script. Hancock completed the script back in 1993 and apparently never bothered to update it. For reference, we have “Se7en,” “Zodiac,” and so many more investigative thrillers involving serial killers in the years since. In comparison, Hancock’s script has flavor but lacks any real substance.

Malek’s Baxter is especially hit hard by this. While Malek is pretty good with what he’s given, he is sandwiched between icon Washington and the macabre Leto. He draws the short straw when it comes to characterization. His character is a crusading husband and father who really cares about the women being killed because he is projecting his feelings for his family onto them.

Finally, there are also a few scenes where the movie just spins its wheels. Hancock seems to suggest we are supposed to chew on what details we’ve been given so far, but there is not really a whole lot to munch other than Deke’s apparent guilt. There are portions of the movie containing voids as empty and black as the drainage ditches Deke finds corpses in.

Also, Washington gets an incredible line involving Chinese arithmetic which I am not sure was intentionally hilarious or just a ridiculous attempt at witty banter.

While the editor is mostly competent, there are a handful of important scenes where they just suddenly cut to new angles in such a startling manner that it derails the tone Hancock is going for. One involves a scene in an appliance store which is supposed to be Sparma’s introduction but he is just kind of hidden until Deke suddenly turns back, and he is suddenly back in front of the owner. Sequences like that clash so hard when the rest of the movie is so slickly produced.

Then there is the ending twist, which will decide whether or not anyone finds this a satisfying experience. Personally, I think some of it is undercut by the lack of focus on a certain character and a very undeveloped theme of “no angels.” Hancock tried but missed the mark.

“The Little Things” could have been a solid genre throwback, but sadly there is not much meat on its bones. The committed cast does elevate the material they are given, but commitment can only take a stale story so far. “The Little Things” is serviceable at best but like Deke’s last case best left in the rearview mirror.

Final rating: 2.25/5

Courtesy HBO Max

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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