Few movies have been as frustrating to watch in recent memory as The Little Things. Featuring the biggest waste of A-list talent in some time, this film manages to zig every single time it should have zagged. However, instead of representing a crime drama/thriller or a murder mystery that blazed its own trail, it just feels like wrong choice after wrong choice. It’s almost a marvel that so many of the developments here simply feel antithetical to the goals at hand. The amount of times I shook my head is never what you want when I’m watching a film. What possessed the cast (more on this later) to sign on is a bigger mystery than the one depicted on screen.
The Little Things has the feel of something 30 years late to the scene. Lo and behold, this has been in development for about that long. Go figure, right? It very much seems like a remnant of the 1990s, when serial killer flicks and these sorts of tales were all the rage.
After an opening sequence meant to set the mood, we meet our protagonist. Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon (Denzel Washington) was once an ace detective in Los Angeles. When he burnt out, it resulted in a divorce, heart attack, and eventual banishment to Kern County, California. Sent back to LA to run an errand, he sees old friends and rivals, as well as catches the eye of Detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek). Baxter has Deke’s old job, and currently is on the hunt for a serial killer who specializes in murdering women. Initially meant to head back home, Deke instead is persuaded to take some personal days. As you might imagine, he doesn’t spend them relaxing.
Sticking around to look into the murders, Deke and Baxter quickly zero in on a weirdo named Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) as their prime suspect. As they try and figure him out, Deke’s superhuman ability to notice little things that others might miss proves useful. At the same time, Baxter’s obsession with solving the case may be making him a loose cannon. Throw in the obligatory secret in Deke’s past, as well as a twist or two, and this checks every box that the genre has.
What Jared Leto, Rami Malek, and especially Denzel Washington saw in this film is beyond me. Leto at least seems to be having fun, leaning into Sparma’s weirdness. His walk, his speech, and more, are interesting, if in service of an inferior product. Malek and Washington, however, don’t fare as well. The former looks like he’s playing cop dress-up at a Halloween party, while the latter looks incredibly bored. That’s just not a pairing that’s going to lead to the believable intensity the subject matter requires. Supporting players like Chris Bauer and Natalie Morales, among others, don’t leave a mark.
John Lee Hancock has wanted to make this movie for decades. Why? That’s beyond me, but he finally achieved this goal. While the score by Thomas Newman is suitable for the genre, and the cinematography by John Schwartzman is fine, Hancock comes up short. His script thinks it’s far more clever than it is, while his direction is soulless. Whatever point he’s making with his “surprise” ending is lost in a sea of total mediocrity.
The Little Things is a total slog. Even if you love this sort of film, you’re unlikely to find anything new here. Perhaps I’m on an island all by myself here, but it almost entirely did not work for me. The movie just did absolutely nothing for me. John Lee Hancock, Jared Leto, Rami Malek, and Denzel Washington are simply capable of so much more.