Film Review: The Worth Of ‘The Little Things’

by Ben Martin

The Little Things has come a long way. The screenplay by writer/director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Highwaymen) has been around since 1993. After making his feature film debut as a screenwriter with the underseen and underrated, A Perfect World (1993) that same year, Hancock penned this script. Despite gaining traction for a time and attracting the likes of big-name directors Clint Eastwood (who collaborated with Hancock on A Perfect World), Danny De Vito, and Steven Spielberg, The Little Things never came into fruition as a produced picture. Instead, the screenplay sat on a shelf, all the while drawing comparisons to Se7en, after that movie’s release in 1995. But, after building a directorial career of his own, Hancock has finally managed to piece together The Little Things.

This grim crime-thriller follows Kern County, CA, Deputy Sheriff Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon (Denzel Washington), who is sent back to his old stomping grounds to gather evidence of what appears to be a string of serial killings. However, Deke’s reputation within The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has preceded him. Before long, his further participation in the investigation is requested by the department’s young ace detective/lead investigator, Jim Baxter (Rami Malek). Together, the pair form a quick partnership and put all their efforts into tracking down the killer who’s slaying young women. Soon enough, the cops find their prime suspect in one Albert Sparma (Jared Leto)- an odd-ball who drives the car suspected of being at previous crime scenes and who possesses a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of murder cases. Alas, while Sperma seems like the murderer, there’s not enough evidence against him. All the while, the killings continue as the investigation goes deeper and gets darker.

You read that plot summary correctly. Yup, the story of The Little Things is nothing more than your average pot-boiler of a dark detective-thriller. As a result, the characters average in their genre archetypes. Well, that is they would be if it weren’t for the trifecta of Academy Award-winning actors leading the film. The respective performances of both Washington and Malek elevate and enrich protagonists who are nothing special. Thus, allowing you to become invested in them and their investigation. 

Meanwhile, Leto does a decent enough job of portraying a complete weirdo and possible serial killer. Alas, as is usually the case, Leto’s own persona and pretension soon bleed into the role, never allowing you to forget that this is indeed a part being played by Jared Leto. More to the point, it felt like the actor was merely playing an equally agitating twentieth-century forefather of his character Niander Wallace from Blade Runner 2049 (2017).

Despite these performances and the atmosphere created for the film by Hancock, there’s not enough to The Little Things to make it work. By the beginning of the third act, the film begins to wane as a conclusion becomes ever more desired. Finally, said conclusion is reached. Much to my chagrin, though, it’s one of the most disappointing and wholly unsatisfying endings I’ve seen in crime fiction in a very long time. As a result, the worth of all of the little things that led up to this finale are tarnished. The only way I can tepidly recommend this film is if you are a die-hard fan of any of its stars. Otherwise, please skip it, or you might find this new year of ours to be off to an even more inauspicious start.

The Little Things is now playing in theaters and is available to stream on HBO Max until Sunday, February 28th, 2021.

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