‘The Little Things’ Misses the Mark Big Time

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Published February 17, 2021
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Rami Malek (right) plays lead detective Jim Baxter. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Despite the Oscar-winning star power the filmmakers assembled, “The Little Things” ultimately fails as a film in more ways than one.

“The Little Things” is a neo-noir thriller written, directed and produced by John Lee Hancock, best known for directing the 2009 film “The Blind Side.” It stars Rami Malek, Denzel Washington and Jared Leto, all of whom have previously won Academy Awards in acting.

The film takes place in Los Angeles in the early 1990s and focuses on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s search for a serial killer targeting women. The lead detective, Jim Baxter, played by Rami Malek, enlists the help of deputy sheriff Joe “Deke” Deacon, played by Denzel Washington, to help as the current case possesses similarities to a past case when Deacon was lead detective. As their investigation progresses, Baxter and Deacon set their sights on a specific suspect, Albert Sparma, played by Jared Leto.

Jared Leto plays Albert Sparma, the main suspect of the case.

Jared Leto plays Albert Sparma, the main suspect of the case.
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The film had initially developed hype due to the on-screen talent attached to it, and that was a large reason that the film caught my attention as well. I am a huge fan of Malek’s work on the series “Mr. Robot,” Leto’s work in “Dallas Buyers Club” and Denzel Washington is, of course, Denzel Washington. This trio hinted at the backbone of a potentially great film, but unfortunately, all had their faults.

Malek has a certain demeanor about him that makes him believable as a nervous character, most notably found within his speech. On “Mr. Robot,” he plays a socially anxious computer hacker, and this even works in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” where he presents the confident and flamboyant Freddie Mercury as a flawed and deeply fearful character. With that being said, he is not all that convincing as a young, cocky, hotshot detective until perhaps the final half-hour of the movie.

Detective Jim Baxter enlists the help of Deputy Sheriff Joe Deacon in tracking down in a serial killer in 1990s Los Angeles.

Detective Jim Baxter enlists the help of Deputy Sheriff Joe Deacon in tracking down in a serial killer in 1990s Los Angeles.
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

As for the other two leads, Leto is known for over-preparing for some of his roles and this is one of them. He seems too into character for such a blunder of a film, but his dedication is still admirable and makes him the most interesting character to watch.

The film relies too heavily on Washington just playing himself: the classic Denzel attitude, the classic one-liners, the classic troubled character background. Washington is still as fun as always to watch, but it just feels like I have seen this before. However, this is less the fault of Washington himself and more the fault of lazy screenwriting.

"The Little Things" is written and directed by John Lee Hancock.

“The Little Things” is written and directed by John Lee Hancock.
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The screenplay is riddled with overused cop drama tropes and cheesy cop conversations and expressions. One scene I recall in particular involves Detective Baxter and Deke speaking about the case on a bridge at night when Baxter asks Deke if he believes in God. To this Deke replies that he does but sometimes he feels like God does not care.

If I had a nickel for every time I have seen a cop drama or thriller where there is a conversation pertaining to the possible existence of some sort of deity or higher power, I would most likely be a rich man right now.

Rami Malek, Denzel Washington and Jared Leto all star in "The Little Things."

Rami Malek, Denzel Washington and Jared Leto all star in “The Little Things.”
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The writing does not necessarily get better after this. I am not an expert on how members of law enforcement actually communicate with each other, but due to the dialogue of “The Little Things” being as cliche as thousands of similar movies, I think it’s safe to assume that this is not an accurate representation.

The writing is so insincere that it does not really feel like a cop movie at all. It feels like someone who is a big fan of crime thrillers tried their best to recreate their best imitation of one, but in the end prove they really know nothing on the subject.

The editing is another horrendous aspect of the film, especially the first 30 to 45 minutes. There were so many unnecessary cuts that it actually made me dizzy. Once I realized how bad the editing was within the first five minutes, I somewhat stopped focusing on the plot of the film and focused all my attention on looking for as many odd and untimely cuts as possible, and I found way too many.

The distracting cutting also led to blatant continuity errors which I normally overlook in any other film, but found to be extremely bothersome in this case.

Fortunately, the frequent cutting significantly dies down in the final two thirds of the film, but by then the damage had already been done.

And if that were not enough, the plot of the film itself is such a drag. The events unfold at such a slow and unexciting pace that I am finding it difficult to label this movie as a thriller.

There is all this focus on the detectives investigating one sole suspect when there are millions of people living in the entirety of Los Angeles that you would at least hope the ending is exciting. I spent all this time watching this film (and nearly falling asleep at one point) just to end up with an unsatisfying conclusion.

Denzel Washington plays Deputy Sheriff Joe "Deke" Deacon.

Denzel Washington plays Deputy Sheriff Joe “Deke” Deacon.
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

I am also unsure of what Hancock was trying to convey to viewers with this film. There seems to be no real message to take away, things just sort of end. I cannot complain about that too much though as I was just happy the film ended at all.

“The Little Things” is set to leave HBO Max on Feb. 28 as part of Warner Bros. Pictures plan to release all of their 2021 films on the streaming service for a month each, but if I were one of the Warner Bros., I would heavily consider withdrawing it sooner.

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