THE LITTLE THINGS (2021) – Denzel Washington Thriller In Need of Some Big Things

THE LITTLE THINGS (2021), a new serial killer thriller by writer/director John Lee Hancock, and starring the impressive trio of Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto, stresses that it’s the little things that matter, the small details that even the most careful killers will miss. It’s those things that investigators have to find in order to nab their guy. In short, you gotta pay attention to the little things.

Too bad the movie didn’t take its own advice.

THE LITTLE THINGS takes place in California in 1990 and follows the story of former homicide detective Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel Washington). Deke worked so hard on his last case, trying to track down a serial killer, that it nearly killed him, and he was forced to move on to another position as a sheriff’s deputy. But when current homicide detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) is at his wit’s end trying to track down a serial killer of his own, he turns to Deke for help, and since Deke notices similarities between this case and the one he had been working on, he is only too happy to oblige. Deke is known for being able to find the “little things” which killers miss.

Deke and Baxter settle upon a person of interest, Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), and when Sparma doesn’t disappoint, the game of cat and mouse begins.

THE LITTLE THINGS takes place in 1990, pretty much for no other reason than that’s when John Lee Hancock first wrote the screenplay. Neither the year nor the decade adds anything of relevance to the story. And while you can tell it’s the 1990s by the cars being driven and the fact that no one has a wireless device of any kind, the movie isn’t exactly steeped in 1990s atmosphere.

The other noticeable thing about this having been written in 1990, which is especially noticeable here in 2021, is that there isn’t any major female characters in this story. None whatsoever. All the women here have smaller supporting roles. The fact that this is so noticeable in the here and now is a good thing. Let’s not return to the days of yesteryear, thank you very much!

It’s kind of strange script by Hancock. For starters, the time in the story just seems off. At first, it appears as if Deke has been off the job as a homicide detective for a long time, but as the story goes along, it’s revealed that it wasn’t that long at all. Which is weird because it plays better had Deke been off the force for years.

I enjoyed the story early on. The serial killer plot was interesting, as was Deke’s character, and the way he worked the case. But once prime suspect Albert Sparma shows up, things change, and it has little to do with Sparma, who is a creepy character and interesting to watch. No, it’s the characters of Deke and Baxter who become head scratchers, especially Baxter. He is supposed to be this hotshot police detective, but time and time again, the decisions he makes are rather stupid, especially towards the end. Speaking of which, the ending to this film is a huge letdown. The story doesn’t really build to a climax, and the ending is very flat.

This one also has a rather strange subtext. It stresses that the little things are important, but we barely see Deke take advantage of that, at least in the solving of a case. Instead, the message seems to be what the little things are important for are so that you can cover your tracks when you mess up, as these guys continually do in this movie. Ultimately, the story didn’t work at all for me.

John Lee Hancock also wrote and directed THE BLIND SIDE (2009) and directed SAVING MR. BANKS (2013). Prior to THE LITTLE THINGS, Hancock directed the Netflix movie THE HIGHWAYMEN (2019), starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson as the men who successfully hunted down Bonnie and Clyde. It was a film I was only lukewarm to. One of my favorite Hancock-directed movies is THE FOUNDER (2016), a film in which Michael Keaton delivered a knockout performance as the controversial McDonalds “founder” Ray Kroc, and Hancock brilliantly captured the look and feel of the time period. So Hancock is a talented director, but his work here as both a director and writer on THE LITTLE THINGS isn’t his best.

The best thing about THE LITTLE THINGS is its cast. I can watch Denzel Washington all day, and as you would expect, he is excellent once again in the role of Deke, the homicide detective with the knack for finding the little things. The only problem is we don’t see this knack on display all that much.

Rami Malek is good as Detective Baxter, althought ultimately he proves to be a rather dumb character. He’s certainly not a worthy enough character for an actor like Malek, who won an Oscar for playing Freddie Mercury in BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (2019).

I really enjoyed Jared Leto as creepy suspect Albert Sparma. Leto’s performance is every bit as good as Denzel Washington’s. He makes Sparma one very unsettling dude.

There are some fine supporting performances as well, especially Michael Hyatt as coroner Flo Dunigan. She has a special connection to Deke.

Ultimately, THE LITTLE THINGS is a mediocre thriller. It enjoys a stronger first half than its second, which strangely fails to generate much suspense or excitement. It does have strong acting, with Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto leading the way, but when all was said and done, it just wasn’t a film that I was all that excited about.

While it may be all about the little things, in this movie the little things hardly seemed to matter at all.

Perhaps what it really should have been focusing on were some big things.

—END—

One thought on “THE LITTLE THINGS (2021) – Denzel Washington Thriller In Need of Some Big Things

  1. It’s kind of not surprising… In the determination to write something set in that “awkward phase” between technological advancement and a more “normal” decade of human interaction… writing a story can actually “feel” off, dated, out-of-step. Myself, I notice I tend to head back to the 1980s and before or just write in the now for that reason…Maybe the screen writers and author had the same problem and weren’t able to shake it, either…

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