Writer/director John Lee Hancock wrote the first draft of the new film, The Little Things, back in 1993, and it shows, as this film’s story has not aged very well. Putting aside the ’90s flavor that is packed into each and every scene of this crime thriller, out now in select theaters and streaming on HBO Max, the criminal justice aspects at the heart of the film are very problematic in today’s culture. Not even a stellar cast can overcome that kind of cancer eating this story from within.
The Little Things stars Denzel Washington as Joe “Deke” Deacon, a deputy from a small community in Northern California who gets tasked to drive to Los Angeles to pick up some vital evidence. Deke has a history with L.A. county, as he worked for the sheriff’s department there until a case came up that was unsolvable, and it drove Deke to a heart attack, a divorce, and ultimately unemployment, all within a short amount of time.
When Deke gets back into town, he meets the new hotshot detective, Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), who is working on another huge, high-profile murder case that has similarities to the one that destroyed Deke and his career. Deke and Jim unofficially team up to try and work the evidence and solve the case, and that leads them to suspect Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), a crime buff who knows too much about the case, but is free of implication from any hard evidence. And so the cat-and-mouse game begins.
The Little Things could easily be written off as a clone of the shocking crime films of the 1990s, like Seven and Silence of the Lambs, if not for the fact that it was originally written smack dab between those two films. There is a ton of gray area that the cops are swimming in, and there are instances of departmental cover-ups as well, which is very problematic in today’s climate of criminal justice reform.
The performances of the three leads are tasked with carrying the film, and each actor does their part. Washington plays haunted very well, and Malek sieves uncertainty, both at home and at the job. Leto gets to have the most fun here playing the bad guy, and he transforms himself into Sparma, oozing a wicked darkness with each word he speaks in every scene he’s in.
Hancock’s script would have played well in the 1990s, and may have even been regarded as avant-garde at the time, but in 2021, the pacing and questionable deeds of the characters creates a sense of uneasiness for the audience. And if the argument is that this is how policing works, then that in itself is an indictment that the system is broken and needs to be overhauled.
For his part, Hancock drops clues for the audience to discover throughout the film, and at one point Deke even tells young Jimmy to always watch out for the little things, as that is where the truth is, but that does not absolve The Little Things from the real crime we see play out (twice) on screen. Sadly, this film is a movie out of its time, and that ultimately hurts it.
The Little Things was hamstrung from the start, and studio executives should have recognized that. There are just some stories that belong in the time when they were conceived, and trying to overcome that in a world beset with volatility like the one we live in today is a recipe for disaster. This is one story, for good or bad, that should have been left in 1993.
The Little Things is rated R and is in theaters and on HBO Max now.
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