“The Little Things” Movie Review


     Not even a trio of Oscar winning actors can save writer/director John Lee Hancock’s “The Little Things”, an early 90s set crime thriller similar in tone to many films within the genre that were actually released in the same time period.  Think “The Bone Collector”, “Along Came a Spider”, or even “Seven” and “The Silence of the Lambs”.  Some where seen as merely average and forgettable, while others remain classics because of memorable villains, as well as police detectives who could match their every move with smarts and ingenuity.  The characters in “The Little Things” possess none of those attributes, while continually making illogical and often dumb decisions that lead to a series of anticlimactic outcomes in the third act. 

     If you are watching the opening scene of a film like this and the first thought that arrives in your head is the Geico commercial that parodies horror movies where youngsters seem to ignore the obvious way out in favor of a hiding spot that plays directly into the slasher’s hands, you have to figure the story has no where to go but south.  This, after all, is a film that stars none other than Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto.  Expectations will naturally be sky high.  But then we see a young girl driving on a dark highway somewhere outside of Los Angeles.  In a call back to a similar sequence in the aforementioned “The Silence of the Lambs”, she sings loudly along with the song playing on the radio (the B-52s “Roam”).  Oblivious to the car behind her, until the driver starts to aggressively tail gate.  She’s suddenly scared out of her mind, as the two play cat and mouse on the road.  Although she never realizes the likely best course of action is to keep driving towards civilization which is shown to be a few miles ahead.

     But no, instead she pulls over to what is clearly a closed and abandoned gas station.  Gets out of her car, leaving it open and running, and starts banging on a window of the shuttered convenience store, desperately hoping someone will let her in.  Of course, no one is home and the person who was terrorizing her on the road has now taken the keys to her car, and is closing in on foot.  So she runs into the dark and poorly lit desert lot behind the store.  As if she thinks she’s invisible and won’t be seen by what we believe as an audience must be some kind of stalker or killer.  You see where this is going right?  And it only gets worse.  We haven’t met the cops yet.

     The first glimpse of Kern County Deputy Sheriff Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) sees the uniformed patrol cop being assigned by a superior to drive to Los Angeles and pick up evidence from the LASO crime lab.  There’s a serial killer on the loose and apparently the dots have been connected between murders in the Los Angeles area, as well as Kern County.  Early on, we are led to believe, with little detail, that Deacon was once an LASO homicide detective who left the department on bad terms.  Later, we find out his relentless methods utilized for investigating cases caused him to get divorced and suffer a massive heart attack.  This is why he left his job behind.  So what does he do next?  He becomes a cop in a neighboring county?  That’s how he tries to get himself right?  And why was he hired when a simple background check would reveal he left his previous agency after suffering a break down?

     Deacon's evidence pick up has him come face to face with a number of people he previously worked with.  All of which are surprised to see him.  He meets his replacement in the homicide unit, Sergeant Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), who right away seems to be strangely intrigued with Deacon and his reputation as a detective.  And since the script needs a reason for Deacon to stick around in Los Angeles, it conveniently sees him take vacation from his Kern County job and work along side Baxter as they attempt to track down the person responsible for a string of grisly murders that have occurred in the area with a similar method of operation.  From this point, it’s all by the numbers. 

     After picking up Supporting Actor nominations from both SAG and the Golden Globes, you’ll likely hear a lot about Jared Leto’s performance as Albert Sparma, a greasy haired slime ball and refrigerator repairman who Deacon and Baxter eventually develop as a possible suspect.  Don’t buy into it.  Leto is a fine actor in the right role, but his character is all one note.  Constantly pushing a forced and unnecessary creep vibe that we have seen from countless serial killer villains many times before.  He wants us to believe the character is smart, but there’s absolutely no substance.

     And neither actor is helped much in the way of Hancock’s script, which fails to provide a single line of memorable dialogue.  What it does give us is a series of unrealistic decisions made by key characters that are done solely for the convenience of the plot.  It’s as if they are operating in a vacuum devoid of back up, superiors, or others within the criminal element that would have certainly played into much of what goes down.  And after everything finally comes together, it becomes clear Hancock had no idea how to end the story, resulting in one of those vague head scratchers that makes no sense and fails to satisfy after spending 127 minutes hoping for a bombshell or at least some semblance of a pay off.  Sure, something in Deacon’s past figures into this, but the matter at hand, bringing the perpetrator of these brutal crimes to justice, doesn’t materialize in a way that brings closure after a lengthy build up.

     Working against “The Little Things” is the fact that not only has this genre been thoroughly explored in far superior ways, but also the undeniable rise in popularity of true crime documentaries, which seemingly always deliver the shocking truths of a particular case in a way that gets the audience debating the outcome long after their initial viewing.  HBO’s “The Jinx” and Netflix’s “Making a Murderer’, as examples, are far more compelling and don’t have to rely on overused genre tropes in order to be effective.  Why make this stuff up, when you can see the real thing? GRADE: C-