The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - THE LITTLE THINGS | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - THE LITTLE THINGS

New to Prime Video - THE LITTLE THINGS
A former Los Angeles detective turned small town deputy revisits a crime that continues to haunt him.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: John Lee Hancock

Starring: Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto, Chris Bauer, Michael Hyatt, Terry Kinney, Natalie Morales

the little things poster

There's an exchange in The Little Things between its detective protagonist and the film's nominal antagonist in which the latter utters a variation of "We're a lot alike, you and I!" Yeah, we're not dealing with the most original of scripts here. If writer/director John Lee Hancock's thriller feels tired and dated, that's probably because the script was written as far back as 1993. After passing through the hands of such big name potential directors as Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood and Warren Beatty, Hancock's script was filed away for over two decades before he decided to take a crack at it himself.

Police thrillers have evolved somewhat since 1993, and while its narrative feels very much of its era, Hancock's visuals are heavily influenced by David Fincher, with sequences that feel borrowed from Seven and Zodiac, but without any of the tension and skin-crawling atmosphere Fincher brought to those projects.

the little things review

The Little Things is the classic story of a grizzled veteran cop reopening an old case that has haunted him for years. It's 1990 and former Los Angeles detective Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) is a lowly deputy in Bakersfield. Asked to retrieve a piece of evidence from his old LA precinct, Deacon has an anti-meet-cute with Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), the hotshot young detective who has taken on his old role. Despite the pair getting off on the wrong foot, Baxter has a lot of respect for the veteran and invites him to tag along to a murder scene. There, Deacon notices how the MO is similar to the case that caused him to quit his post five years earlier, in which the bodies of three young women were found naked, bound and gagged.

Taking an abrupt vacation from Bakersfield, Deacon checks into a crummy motel of the sort where Starsky and Hutch were always harassing suspects, and begins re-investigating the case of the triple murder while accompanying Baxter on his own current investigation. Together they identify a chief suspect in sinister repairman Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), a true crime obsessive who seems to know an awful lot about the murders. Is he their "boy" or is he simply having fun stringing them along?

the little things review

Hancock's film took something of a critical pasting on its US release, with most critics pointing out its lack of originality and the oddly mannered performances of Leto and Malek. While it's hard to argue with such takes, I wasn't so bothered by the failure of the film to deliver anything new in terms of storytelling, probably because I watch a lot of '70s TV movies and The Little Things heavily evokes their character first, plot second vibe (its ending shares many similarities with Jonathan Kaplan's 1979 TV flick 11th Victim). I've never been much of a plot guy, so it didn't bother me that Hancock's script felt so rusty in its various underwhelming twists and turns.

The relationship between Deacon and Baxter kept my interest because it's the one aspect of the film that doesn't feel conventional. The initial tease of the usual bickering mismatched cops trope is quickly done away with as the two men put aside any philosophical disagreements on how the investigation should be conducted. While this makes for a lack of conflict, there's something almost sweet about Deacon's paternal relationship with the young dick.

the little things review

As for Leto and Malek? Well I have no idea what Malek is doing here. He interprets Baxter's by-the-book nature so literally that he comes off as an android, never appearing to blink, and the effect is like watching a deepfake of Malek rather than the actor himself. Leto is as out there as you might expect from Jared Leto playing a potential serial killer. I found it decidedly odd that he wears his work clothes throughout the whole film, even on his days off, and I can only imagine that was one of Leto's notorious "method acting" choices. Yet while I rolled my eyes when Leto first appeared, I have to admit he did get under my skin and he makes for a genuinely creepy presence. Washington is his usual solid self, though the movie can't quite make its mind up whether his Deacon is a psychologically scarred misanthrope ala Morgan Freeman in Seven or a wise-cracking Philip Marlowe type.

It's probably fitting that The Little Things is debuting on VOD rather than being granted a theatrical run, as it boasts an ending that will have you rewinding just to make sure you didn't miss something. I don’t mean it has some outrageous twist, but rather that it's so anti-climactic that you'll convince yourself the closing moments have some greater meaning you failed to pick up on. But no, it really does offer an "Is that it?" ending for the ages.

The Little Things
 is on Netflix UK/ROI now.