The Little Things (2021)
Some things never let us go.
As the title suggests, it’s the little things in John Lee Hancock’s, The Blind Side (2009), throwback neo-noir thriller The Little Things that make it worthwhile. Little things like Jared Leto’s unsettling ticks and quirks as a creepy murder suspect, or the nuances in Denzel Washington’s performance as a wounded deputy sheriff. While some may argue that the movie leans too heavily into genre clichés and tries too hard to be the next Se7en (1995), it’s important to note that the script was penned by writer-director Hancock in 1990. With that said, the film really feels as though it could have come out during that period, where we were getting a stack of mid-budgeted crime films centered around ‘broken’ protagonists, à la The Bone Collector (1999) or Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), both which star Denzel.
The Little Things itself is set in 1990 and follows Washington’s Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon, a burnt-out former L.A. detective whose shadowy past has led him to transfer out to Kern County, California, where he lives as a solitary man and serves in his jurisdiction. When Deacon gets called back to the Los Angeles Police Department to pick up some evidence, he learns of a new ‘missing person’ case being investigated that resembles an unsolved incident from his past. Using his vacation days, Deacon stays in L.A. for some extra time and offers to help the homicide detective who’s running the case, rookie Sergeant Jim Baxter (Rami Malek). Eventually, the pair narrow their suspects down to an off-beat self-professed crime buff named Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), whom both men have a gut feeling about his guilt. Alas, although electrical repairman Sparma certainly gives off some serious serial killer vibes, Deacon and Baxter need to find enough evidence to pin the murders on him.
A good old-fashioned slow burn, The Little Things has a lot in common with David Fincher’s Se7en in that it’s more of a procedural crime film focused on the detectives who are trying to solve a string of grisly murders rather than the lives of the victims. We see a couple of women who are pursued by a faceless stalker, including Sofia Vassilieva, My Sister’s Keeper (2009), and Maya Kazan, Useless Humans (2020), but we don’t really get to know these women. Instead, we spend the bulk of our time with Washington’s Deacon and Malek’s Baxter, two distinctly different types of cop.
It’s always great seeing Denzel Washington’s commanding presence onscreen, and he’s unwaveringly strong here. Not much is known about the character of Deacon when we first meet him bar the fact that he’d been suspended, divorced, and has had a triple bypass all in the space of six months. During the course of the narrative, we learn more of his past guilt and trauma through a series of flashbacks, which Hancock effectively weaves throughout the story, unraveling what’s led him to become the withdrawn man that he is. Deacon is working tirelessly to clear his conscience, telling Malek’s Baxter that victims are your ‘lifelong responsibility.’ Rami Malek’s performance as greenhorn Sergeant Baxter is nowhere near as polished as Washington’s elder statesman, but it’s nonetheless interesting to see both men play off one another with ‘Deke’ trying to teach Baxter not to make the same mistakes he once did.
Then there’s Jared Leto, complete with a long greasy mane, a prosthetic nose, tooth-caps, and a bow-legged walk, who doesn’t appear until round about the mid-way point and elevates the film several notches. Playing the guy like a soft-spoken Charles Manson wannabe, Leto’s Albert oozes with inkiness, the 30 Seconds to Mars frontman reveling in the character’s weirdness and unnerving nature. Given his outré performance here, I’d love to see more of Leto as the Joker in the DCEU, chiefly if he’s given better material to work with. I honestly had a blast watching Washington and Malek run around town, trying to get the jump on Leto’s Mr. Sparma to prove that he’s guilty of the murders they’re investigating. Sure, it’s pulpy and sometimes requires viewers to suspend their disbelief, but their cat-and-mouse thing had me hooked.
On a technical level, The Little Things looks great, director of photography John Schwartzman, Seabiscuit (2003), creating a kinda muted, dark, foreboding atmosphere throughout. Similarly, the beating score by Thomas Newman, 1917 (2019), adds to the overall ominous nature of the story. Although this is clearly a triple-header, support players do pretty well with their limited roles, such as True Blood’s Chris Bauer as Deke’s pal Detective Sal Rizoli, Natalie Morales, Battle of the Sexes (2017), playing Baxter’s actual partner Detective Jamie Estrada, and Isabel Arraiza, Driven (2018), as Jim’s wife, Ana.
Concluding with a series of reveals, The Little Things finishes off on a relative-high, despite Hancock not giving us all the answers we want. What we do get, however, is an ending so compassionate and quite shocking that it changes the way we see certain characters. All up, it’s the A-lister cast, decent script, and worthy direction that makes The Little Things more than a little entertaining and a little reminder that they don’t make ‘em like they used to!
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Mr. Movie