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Movie Review: 'The Little Things'

by Sean Patrick about a year ago in movie
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Denzel Washington/Rami Malek serial killer thriller sputters.

The trailer for the new Denzel Washington-Rami Malek thriller, The Little Things, rubs me the wrong way. It’s similar to when you’re listening to a song and they strike a bad chord and you wince almost imperceptibly. That’s me every time I see the trailer for The Little Things and Denzel Washington blames the murdered woman on a morgue slab in front of him for getting herself killed.

I’m being harsh, and having seen the movie, I know it is not intended to come off as Denzel blaming the victim. But, it’s notably sloppy for a movie that intends to be a taut thriller that the implication is left hanging there. In the scene in question, Denzel Washington is doing his hinky detective schtick and talking to the victim as if she could answer his questions. He says “You should have listened to that one little feeling.” He’s referring to his notion that she knew her killer and let him into her apartment despite what Denzel assumes were misgivings about the man.

It’s not blatant victim blaming but I feel comfortable that it’s a reasonable way to take such a pointed and unnecessary line of dialogue. It’s a line that doesn’t mean anything. The whole schtick, the only in the movies routine that Denzel enacts, talking to a murdered woman's corpse, is a lot of pointless meandering. It's a lot of self important, actorly business.

It’s schtick, it’s a shorthand, it's a lazy screenwriters way to tell audiences that a detective has a quirky way of approaching a murder and is, by extension, a savant level genius at deduction. That’s great if it is going somewhere but, in The Little Things, and as directed by John Lee Hancock, it plays like a bit of cliched actorly business. That’s not so bad considering the actor, but even Denzel Washington's charisma and magnetism can’t make this nonsense stage business into anything more compelling than an episode of Columbo.

"Who did this to you?" "I think it was Jared Leto" says the corpse.

The Little Things centers on Deke Deacons a former LAPD Detective who is forced to return to Los Angeles to retrieve a piece of evidence. While there, he gets drawn into a murder case that he deduces may be connected to the case that ended his career with the LAPD, a serial killer with some specific fetishes. The latest victims are on the roster of Deacons’ replacement, a young detective named Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek).

Aware of Deacons’ status as a legend, Baxter asks him to tag along to a murder scene and when Deacons finds a major clue that everyone else misses, the two begin spending more time together and Deacons’ uses his vacation time from his gig as a small town deputy, to help track down a murderer. All signs eventually point to a creep named Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) who enjoys the attention of the police and may not be a killer despite the circumstantial evidence his general creepiness.

I will stop there with my plot description, believe me, there are plenty more things to discover about The Little Things than what I have described. That said, what’s left is pretty much full of holes. Despite the uniformly solid performances from all involved, The Little Things never builds to anything. There is very little suspense in the movie and what little suspense there is come from scenes we’ve seen a few million times.

For example, if you've ever watched a detective movie you've seen a scene where the good guys sneak into the bad guys house. One of the detectives stays in the car and is the lookout. The lookout's job is to sweat and say ‘come on, come on,’ with increasing urgency. The other guy’s job is to wave a flashlight around so his partner can see him snooping around from the flashlight playing off of the blinds or through the curtains.

Yeah, most of us have seen this scene before. It’s not new and director John Lee Hancock does nothing to elevate it beyond the mundane. Even more pathetic though is the vain attempt at making The Little Things into a sugar free version of Seven. Sugar, in this comparison, is a more visceral and direct depiction of murder. Unfortunately, where Seven built toward Greek tragedy levels of agonizing drama and suspense via a serial killer plot, The Little Things peters out till the drama dribbles away like water dripping into sand.

The Little Things will be released day and date in theaters and on HBO Max on January 29th.

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About the author

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast. I am a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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