The Little Things
Starring Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Chris Bauer, Terry Kinney, Michael Hyatt, Natalie Morales and Jared Leto
Written and directed by John Lee Hancock
Rated: 14A for coarse language, nudity, substance use and graphic violence
Runtime: 128 minutes
Available on Friday, Jan. 29 for rental via premium video on demand (see participating digital platforms) for $24.99.
If you're like me, then you too regard Denzel Washington as your 'go-to' guy for characters who get the job done with integrity and charm. He plays them the best. You know you can feel confident on a satisfying resolution at the end of the show no matter how violent and messy things might get, no matter how flawed or burdened his character might be.
In The Little Things, Washington plays Deke, a deputy sheriff who finds himself back in Los Angeles where he somehow fell from grace as a detective. There, he assists his replacement, Baxter (Rami Malek), to track down a serial killer. Baxter has a steely resolve and knows to trust evolving scientific methods of detection for supreme accuracy when cataloguing the evidence and identifying suspects. Deke has a way of finding the key details that could possibly be that one crucial break in the case, but still the killer remains elusive.
If your memory takes you immediately to films like Seven or Zodiac then you'll get a better sense of the plot and what the film is trying to achieve here, though it certainly lacks much of the same atmosphere and lasting tension as its forebears. This movie seems not to be focused so much on solving the mystery as it is about building up the sometimes strained relationship between the two detectives. Police work can't be easy; police friends don't seem to come easy either.
Rather, it plays much like a standard police procedural: follow the clues, process the fingerprints, find your suspect. The Little Things does save a nice little novelty for its denouement, however. I'm not sure how well it works, but I still dwell on it a bit. As thought-provoking as it tries to be, it's just not completely effective.
Washington and Malek are fine though the writing could have been much stronger. At times, Deke comes off as a 'murder victim whisperer' who can hear their secrets of their murders. Baxter has a beautiful family and a perfect home, which doesn't make any sense for such a hard-nosed, by the book, driven kind of cop. "Doesn't he know how to stack a pile of papers on his desk?" I wondered.
Unsurprisingly, Jared Leto gives it his creepiest all in portraying the main suspect, who we don't really meet until at least the halfway point.
This is the sort of movie that would have been handled much better in Clint Eastwood's hands 20 or even 30 years ago. With John Lee Hancock directing his own script, the film strikes me as vaguely unsure of itself. Though there are moments of high tension, the cat and mouse scenes might be better described as cat and ball of yarn: entertaining for maybe a minute but when it goes on longer than that it just becomes a colossal bore. There's one scene where Deke and Baxter – someone should have called in a script doctor to rename these two – are sitting in a car taking the surveillance shift on the main suspect as he leaves his loft in the morning, takes the bus, goes into a strip club for the day, then takes the bus back home, and re-enters his home. Somewhere, there should be a law against this: an audience sitting and watching characters who are sitting and watching someone else.
If he chooses to continue directing, Hancock should stick with films like Saving Mr. Banks and The Blind Side.