A disgraced detective returns to the big city to solve a series of murders.
Directed by John Lee Hancock
Starring Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto
Review by Jon Kissel
Moving through this tired universe is Washington as disgraced cop Deke Deacon, a former LA murder detective now living in a California desert shack as a deputy. On an errand to his old department, he gets drawn into a series of murders that haven’t turned up any leads under detective Jim Baxter’s (Malek) direction. Because Deke is one of those cops who can cut through plot tangles with his preternatural perception and evidence walls, Leto’s Albert Sparma becomes the investigation’s new target. Deke infects Baxter with his brand of obsession, and the latter finds himself neglecting his family and his other work to trail Sparma, a greaseball who sure walks, talks, and acts like a serial killer. Deke and Baxter talk about god and look at ominous crosses on hills, while Hancock’s attempt to visualize Deke’s guilt over his failures means nothing less than that the actual women Deke’s failed to save follow him around in a recreation of Vincent Hanna’s nightmare from Heat.
The Little Things makes a move towards redemption in its final scenes as it’s revealed that our protagonist has been a corrupt and murderous cop the whole time, and his sins aren’t ones of omission but of commission. It’s the kind of reversal that I might admire in a better film, but everything is played in such a muted, dead register that any rooting interest has long since withered into nothing. A lot of that ineffectiveness is how rote and unsurprising and uninspired the film is up to the reveal, and another chunk is Leto’s presence as an actor who is always acting in the most ostentatious way possible. His Sparma is never anything but Leto as an eccentric weirdo. There’s no way he had a limp in the script: Leto probably just thought he should have more physical business. As written, the character is a complete red herring who likes to antagonize cops, and then in steps Leto with his meth face and his fake paunch to all but break the film when he shows up. His death, caused by Baxter in a burst of rage, evoked exactly nothing, not for the character’s absence nor for the guilt that Baxter would now have to live with.
The Little Things is a movie that exists, and that’s about all I can say for it. It’s not actively offensive at least, though it is mildly so with all the shots of naked female corpses. It’s hard not to find the behind-the-scenes blocking of a female corpse unsettling, like Hancock’s asked the actor to lie there in pallid makeup as he gets her breasts in frame while people talk around her. Even the always welcome presence of Michael Hyatt as the morgue worker can’t keep these scenes from feeling gross. Washington is reasonably watchable even at low energy and the ending is subversive, but subversive for miniscule effect. The Little Things needed to stay in the mid-90’s, or at least attach a director who can bring more than other people’s work to the table. C-