PG Score: 6.75/10
The Little Things opened in theaters on 1/29/21 and is available for streaming on HBO Max
Warner Bros. rocked the world of cinema late last year with the announcement that all their films in 2021 will come to theaters and HBO Max simultaneously. This format debuted in December with Wonder Woman 1984 and (regardless of the reception the movie itself received) was met by an overwhelming appreciation of the accessibility it created for moviegoers during these uncertain times. The Little Things is first up on the slate of titles this year to incorporate the dual release model, and its arrival yields mixed results.
The story takes place in 1990 and follows Kern County deputy sheriff Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) as he crosses paths with Los Angeles homicide detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), a rising star in Deacon's former department. Together, the pair track down a serial killer, and their hunt leads them to believe peculiar loner Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) is the prime suspect.
Viewers looking for a fast-paced, buddy cop action flick should check out the latest installment of Bad Boys. For those who seek more substance in their detective films, The Little Things is the epitome of a slow-burn and primarily functions as a character study of both the protagonist and deuteragonist. Furthermore, it explores the obsessive nature that some members of law enforcement are prone to when working a case. A generous amount of screen time is dedicated to examining Deacon’s demons through flashbacks, present-day interactions with former colleagues, and solitary moments of reflection. The “cop haunted by his past” theme may be cliché, but it plays a pivotal role in the events at hand.
Writer/Director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks) succeeds in ratcheting up the tension early on and sustaining it throughout most of the 127-minute runtime. Despite the plot’s leisurely speed, there are enough intriguing questions begging for answers to keep audiences engaged. He paints a vivid picture of the ‘90s in Los Angeles, and his backdrop blends well with Deacon and Baxter’s investigation. Dimly lit streets, menacing alleyways, and sprawling unoccupied land all contribute to the ominous tone evident during most of the film. Composer Thomas Newman is also well-deserving of credit in that department as his excellent score matches the on-screen action beat for beat. The ambience is a big reason for the thriller’s intensity and is certainly one of its highlights.
The star-studded affair suffers from bland writing and a significant narrative flaw. Much of the dialogue ranges from mediocre to borderline boring. The lines that were presumably meant to have a thought-provoking effect miss the mark entirely and instead contain little value. The plot progression shortcomings are impacted by the disappointing script as well. Since it serves as both a character study of the officers and a case involving a serial killer, the movie feels conflicted at times. As more of Deacon’s past is revealed and how it connects to the present, the more visible the dueling storylines are. They do not connect as gracefully as they should, and by focusing heavily on both, Hancock sacrifices considerable quality of the overall product.
The trio of Academy Award-winning actors is the most appealing attraction for The Little Things and rightfully so. Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto account for an extraordinary level of star power, and to see them all sharing scenes together is truly a delight. It is a shame they were not given better material to work with.
Trio of Stars
Washington and Malek have ample screen time together and their chemistry, while far from perfect, is still commendable. Malek struggles somewhat to fully embody the clean-cut, gleaming face of the police department. He is immensely gifted, but it is difficult to escape the feeling that his talent lies outside of roles such as this. His character’s semi-hotshot persona meshes with Washington’s Deacon partly because of the latter’s intimidating, yet helpful behavior.
He is no Alonzo Harris, but there are still serious Training Day vibes present throughout as he mentors Baxter. Washington excels at playing deeply troubled characters and this is no exception. While Deacon is more reserved than some of his past roles, he is still on the verge of becoming unhinged for much of the movie, and the accomplished leading man captures that instability. However, the protagonist is markedly less complex than much of his past work, and (through no fault of his own) makes for a rare underwhelming performance from the Oscar-winner.
The standout is Jared Leto, who emits a constant supply of creepiness and irritating confidence as the antagonist. Despite possessing less screen time than his fellow cast members, he leaves the most lasting impression. His portrayal of Albert Sparma is masterfully strange as he delivers each line with just the right mixture of eeriness and conviction. While some of the mannerisms and verbiage may be a bit too detached for their own good, the character creates plenty of ambiguity to fuel the mystery thanks to Leto.
Wasted Potential, Still Adequate
John Lee Hancock fails to make the most of his exceptional cast, but The Little Things is still a caper compelling enough to investigate.