John Lee Hancock directs Oscar Winners Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto in Warner Bros Pictures, The Little Things. The film is set in the year 1990 and opens with an unnamed young lady as she avoids becoming the next victim of an unseen killer. We then meet Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel Washington), a sheriff’s deputy in a small Southern California town. At first glance, it’s clear that Joe is running from his past. Divorced and estranged from his two adult daughters, Joe had a professional fall from favor with the Los Angeles police department where he was once a hotshot detective.
When Joe’s boss assigns him what seems to be a simple task, Joe finds himself back in the city of angels. A few of Joe’s old friends are happy to see him, but Joe 2.0, a slick young detective named Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), isn’t that impressed with Joe’s legend status. Jim is in the process of trying to track down a serial killer whose victims are all young women. The case is strongly similar to a cold case that burned out Joe years prior. Pardon the pun, but the little things in the details place Joe back in action. Naturally, Joe and Jim don’t get along, but they appear to develop a mutual understanding over time, particularly when they key in on a prime suspect named Albert Sparma (Jared Leto).
The Little Things was a passion project for director John Lee Hancock for the last twenty-eight years. Hancock first wrote the script after finishing up A Perfect World for Clint Eastwood. Over the years, A-List directors such as Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Danny DeVito, and Warren Beatty would attempt to bring the project to the big screen, but ultimately all would pass due to the film’s grime nature. On the other hand, Hancock would find directorial success with mainstream films such as The Blind Side, The Alamo, and The Rookie. So how does Hancock’s long gesturing script translate now that it’s arrived on the big screen?
The Little Things screams nineties thriller primarily with its overall tone. Fifteen minutes into the movie, it’s crystal clear that Hancock wrote the film nearly three decades ago. In hindsight, if the film were made thirty years ago, Denzel would actually have Jim Baxter’s role, while a veteran actor would play Joe’s part. In our lead role, Denzel Washington brings his usual polymathic acting style to the character. We’ve seen him play tortured characters before, so the character of Deacon doesn’t require much of Washington, and quite frankly the actor could do this role in his sleep. Even with a weak script, Denzel always gives a good performance.
Following his 2019 Oscar Win for Bohemian Rhapsody, Rami Malek gives a safe paycheck performance. Before the COVID pandemic, Malek’s original follow up to portraying Freddie Mercury would be a Bond villain in No Time to Die, which would’ve given the actor another impressive notch to an already glowing resume. While I enjoyed the smug persona and workaholic vibe that Malek gives Jim’s character, nothing else stood out remarkably. Similar to Denzel’s role, the script for The Little Things doesn’t challenge the actor.
Finally, method actor Jared Leto walks through his role of Albert Sparma with ease. Of the three lead actors, I would have to say that Leto shines the most in the film’s bland script. I commend the director for allowing Leto to have an actual gut and just look flat out creepy. Even the one-on-one interactions that Leto has with Malek & Washington come off strong and personally solidifies that the actor wasn’t that bad of a Joker. The rest of the cast, which includes character actors such as Chris Bauer and Terry Kinney, aren’t really given much to do other than serve as place holders to interact with our two protagonists.
The Little Things isn’t a bad movie, but it is a very mediocre one. Audiences deserve better than the film’s final output of a slow pace and overtly obvious motif to its title. The ending does try and pull it all together, and it mildly works. However, classic thrillers in the nineties handled the material much better, especially when considering the similarities between the third act of this film and 1995’s Se7en. Despite good acting from our leads, in the end, it’s the little things that end up hurting the film, which I mildly recommend.
The Little Things opens in theaters today and will stream on HBO MAX beginning 29 January.
Final Grade C-