The Little Things
John Lee Hancock's The Little Things is a slow burn detective drama that gets by on a rock solid performance by Denzel Washington. It's well-lit and feels like a movie from another decade, which makes it an interesting disappointment that we aren't use to seeing these days.
Director John Lee Hancock returns to both the big and small screen with The Little Things, WB’s latest endeavor to hit both theaters and HBO Max at the same time. This one features a star-studded cast, including Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto in what feels like a slow-burn character study plucked straight out of a late-night 90s cable line up. The Little Things might not be as riveting as it looks, but it packs an emotional punch as it unravels a seedy tale of missing girls and the small moments that piece it all together.
Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel Washington) is now just a uniformed officer that moved out of the busy city life in attempt to rekindle his own sanity and calm his nerves as years of being a Detective have proven dire on his health. This all gets thrown out of wack when he’s called down to the cities to pick up some evidence for a missing persons case that now throws him smack dab back into the thick of it.
He crosses paths with Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) and together, the two attempt to solve a string of murders in hopes of finally grabbing a sadistic serial killer that moves like a shark that smells blood in the water.
Initially, the two don’t seem to care for each other as Deke’s quiet and somewhat mute demeanor makes him come off as a threat to Jim, but quickly the two understand that they both want to deliver justice to whoever is killing these innocent girls, only Jim wants justice because he strongly believes in the law, whereas Deke selfishly wants justice for himself, because unsolved murder cases still hang above his head every day and catching the sick bastard just might mean a good night’s sleep and a drop on his BPM.
The Little Things unravels rather slowly, focusing more on the characters and the setting than it does any sort of urgency or reveal. To call this one a slow burn would to be putting things slightly, as the film clocks in around two hours and shares maybe fifteen minutes of “action”.
And that’s fine, because writer and director John Lee Hancock understands the importance of star power, relaying most of the heavy lifting to pro Denzel Washington, meanwhile Rami Malek and Jared Leto provide the supporting strength.
If any other trio of performers were in this movie, I would have checked out much sooner, but Denzel can do no wrong and his performance in this film proves it.
The character of Joe Deacon is interesting because he’s riddled with mistakes and the past clearly holds more weight than the present or whatever idea of a future he might have. He’s brought back into the thick of it rather quickly, which means we learn about his past through flashbacks that are subtle and interlaced within the film in a way that almost feels dream-like.
The editing of this film, blended with the cinematography, makes for a unique little artistic thriller that’s less focused on showing you blood and guts and more worried about getting you into the heads of all three main characters.
Rami Malek‘s Jimmy sports a questionable accent and a somewhat cocky representation that translates into a guy just really focused on doing his job and catching the bad guys. He lacks the charm or character of Denzel’s Joe, which makes him harder to get behind, but because they’re working together, you sort of flow into his mindset without much question.
Jared Leto is the last-minute addition that puts this film over the edge and I mean that in the best of ways. Leto is restrained here, providing us with a seedy and uncomfortable character that really hasn’t done anything otherwise to make you feel that way, aside from just looking the part and walking the walk. I applaud Leto for giving such a brief, yet disturbing performance that absolutely works in this film and would not have been as memorable in the hands of a lesser performer.
Looking back, I still can’t stop wrestling with the idea that maybe The Little Things is better than I give it credit for, if only because my expectations walking into the film were high and the end result felt like a step in the wrong direction.
I don’t fault the movie entirely, but I do think that it drops the ball towards the end and really leans hard onto its title in a way that doesn’t really service us a satisfying conclusion as much as it does a wink and a smile.
The film comes to a boil and then just fizzles out, returning everyone into their respective homes in a way that feels unresolved and like a dive into each character’s headspace both pre and post investigation and while that’s unique and somewhat unexpected, it doesn’t really leave you with an ending that holds much weight.
The Little Things is a film that feels like it was plucked from another decade, exchanging action and suspense for a more laid back approach to investigation and the darkness of a serial killer. Washington, Malek and Leto are all to be commended for their performances, while writer/director John Lee Hancock does a fine job bringing everything together.
That being said, I felt like I walked out of the movie cold, yet am still thinking about it days later. The Little Things might not blow your mind, but you do have to respect the craft that went into assembling it.
Those of you that enjoyed films like Se7en or Prisoners will likely find something to enjoy with The Little Things, only lower those expectations and remember that this is a January release with almost no fanfare, which is maybe the right mindset to put yourself into while checking it out. I’m not discrediting the movie in any way, but I am trying to set your mind on the right path for maximum enjoyment.