Psychological thrillers and true crime documentaries were a really big thing in the 90s and early 2000s. They never exactly went away, but the popularity died down. In the last 5 years, they have grown increasingly more popular again. Which feeds directly into the hype surrounding The Little Things. No, this film isn’t based on a true story, but it very well could be. It definitely has a mention of a famous serial killer.
The film is also a part of the dual-release system Warner Bros. currently has where the films go to theaters and HBO Max simultaneously. Out of the two we have seen, this by far is the most disappointing. It might have an all-star cast that includes Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto, but it falls short elsewhere.
The film follows Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon (Washington), a Kern County Deputy and former LAPD detective. He goes to visit his old department while still looking into an old case. While visiting his old department, he runs into new detective Jim Baxter (Malek) who has partnered up with his old buddy Sal Rizoli (Chris Bauer). Eventually, Baxter recruits Deacon to help him with a serial killer case. The case is very similar to one he dealt with five years ago, which essentially drove him to where he is now. The man they are chasing is Albert Sparma (Leto), a very creepy but subtle guy. The big question here is, is he actually the killer?
This has all the nuance of a late 90s, early 2000s psychological thriller. The aesthetic is there from the opening scene of the film, from the details of the car to the desert area. It gave a very old school vibe and set a promising tone for the film to follow. And it’s not like The Little Things doesn’t capitalize on it, since the first and second acts are great. It is full of dialogue that gives you an understanding of why things are happening the way they are. You see why Deke is so desperate to solve this case, and Baxter is hellbent on solving this case. You see the emotional toll being a detective has on a person and their family. There are some really good elements to this film but they do not overcome the troubles.
As a person who loves dialogue, I’m happy to say that it has great exchanges throughout. But elsewhere, the writing is actually pretty bad. It almost seems like Hancock got stalled while writing the film and just got lazy in the end. It seems like he had the perfect idea for how to give us the climax, but the way he wrote it was all wrong. You still ultimately get a conclusion, but I didn’t feel any tension or relief at the end. There was honestly no suspense either. The movie and the characters are just there as far as the writing goes. John Lee Hancock is an amazing director, but a terrible writer and that is on full display in this film.
For such a bad script we actually get some great performances from Malek and Washington. Unfortunately, Leto does not get to be in the same company as them. Much like his Joker in Suicide Squad, Albert Sparma is a figure that takes a backseat for most of this film. We see Leto in spurts, but the lack of dialogue hinders his acting ability quite a bit. Leto is a great actor, but his character deserved much more screen time to show us just how menacing he truly was.
Other actors in the film like Bauer, Michael Hyatt, and Isabel Arraiza give some very decent performances. The supporting cast definitely helps the film, but again cannot reconcile it. This is just another failure of this film that holds back the potential of the entirety. For every positive thing in this movie, there were at minimum two negatives.
Overall, I was highly disappointed in this film. I’m a huge fan of psychological thrillers, but this film was neither psychological nor thrilling. The performances were good given what they had to work with. But that hardly matters when everything surrounding it is flat. It has almost everything you’d want in a film like this, and yet that turns out to be its biggest weakness. The little things that can make a film shine are just not there, and for that, we as an audience pay. I hope Hancock learns from this experience, and his next project is amazing. You can’t think a movie will be successful because of the actors that are cast if they have nothing to work with inside of the script. – Rascal F. Kennedy
The Little Things will be available on HBO Max and in theaters on January 29, 2021.