The Little Things (2021) Movie Review
Crime / Thriller
Movies like “The Little Things” are becoming increasingly rare. Once upon a time, dark, brooding thriller adaptations were being released every week after the success of “The Silence of the Lambs.” Movies such as “Kiss the Girls” and “The Bone Collector” were hitting theaters regularly, and it felt like half of them starred Denzel Washington. Nowadays, this genre has largely become the product of television, as shows like “True Detective” and “Mindhunter” take on stories of men haunted by the crimes they investigate. That’s part of what makes “The Little Things” feel dated, although the way it recalls better films with similar themes, particularly David Fincher’s “Seven,” does it no favors too. It’s a movie that's constantly on the verge of developing into something as intense and haunting as writer/director John Lee Hancock wants it to be, but it never achieves its goals, especially in its final half-hour. Some of the major stuff here works, including a performance from Washington that’s better than the movie around it (yet again), some striking L.A. cinematography, and an effective score, but one could say that it’s the little things that hold it back. A few big things too.
Joe Deacon (Washington) is a disgraced former L.A. cop who now works in Bakersfield, living alone on the edge of society. Our story unfolds in 1990, for little reason other than proximity to The Night Stalker case, which still hangs in the air when a new serial killer emerges in the City of Angels. It’s revealed that Deacon lost his marriage, had a heart attack, and had to leave town because of a particularly brutal case that he couldn't solve. He’s haunted and unwanted by his former colleagues, including Captain Carl Farris (Terry Kinney) and Detective Sal Rizoli (Chris Bauer). However, Deacon gets sucked back into the world that nearly destroyed him when he ends up helping his replacement, Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), with the serial killer case that’s terrifying the city. It’s not long before they discover that a loner named Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) is their likely suspect, and “The Little Things” becomes a cat and mouse game between the two detectives and the creepiest guy in L.A., a disturbing character who appears to get off on playing games with the cops.
The first third of “The Little Things” has an effective procedural quality as Baxter feels out whether or not the legendary Joe Deacon can help him solve the case of his life. Of course, there’s an inherent new school vs. old school component to the storytelling that recalls “Seven” as well as providing a vision of Baxter’s future in the emotionally devastated Deacon. The older cop is quite literally haunted by the victims, seeing them in the middle of the night in his dingy hotel room. The idea that a cop can get so invested in a case that it destroys them gives Washington a lot to work with, but it’s ultimately shallow here because of how little we get to know the victims—they're just ghosts and nothing more. Women are largely just victims or spouses in the background of this story, with the exception of Natalie Morales as an officer and Michael Hyatt as a coroner, who are both underutilized.
In conclusion, "The Little Things" is a movie that has its moments, but ultimately falls short of its potential. It attempts to tap into the dark, brooding thriller genre that was popular in the 90s but doesn't quite capture the intensity or intrigue of its predecessors. Despite strong performances from Denzel Washington and some effective cinematography and music, the movie's shallow characterization and lack of urgency prevent it from reaching its goals. It also suffers from a script that meanders and twists in ways that defy logic, leading to a dissatisfying ending.
Overall, "The Little Things" may appeal to fans of the crime thriller genre and those who enjoy seeing Washington's acting prowess on display, but it falls short of being a truly great film. It's a reminder of the disappearing breed of movies that were once popular in the past and how difficult it is to recreate that same magic in modern times.
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