Initially, I had little to no interest in this film, mostly because I’m not a fan of Jared Leto. I love Denzel Washington and was thrilled Rami Malek got to be right below him on the call sheet, but the Leto of it all had me very skeptical. As the film came closer to release, all the press I read was bad. Hell, this film currently sits on Letterboxd at 2.8 stars while on Rotten Tomatoes, it sits at a rotten 49%. To say I was going into the film completely objective would be a lie. There was just too much negativity to ignore by the time The Little Things was released this morning on HBO Max. Little by little, this film won me over, and although some of the characters fumble their way into the final act, it pulled off an enjoyable enough ending to leave me satisfied.
The entirety of The Little Things takes place in late 1990 – this film was written by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side), who also directed this film, in 1993. Joe “Deke” Deacon (Washington) is a Kern County Deputy Sheriff forced to pick up some evidence from the Los Angeles Police Department, which just happens to be where we worked five years prior. Jim “Jimmy” Baxter (Malek) is a detective for the LAPD, leading a case about an unknown serial killer. When it’s discovered that Deke’s case might tie into an old case of Jimmy’s, the two work together to try and find the killer.
The Little Things is a thriller less interested in the serial killer – Jared Leto plays one of the suspects – and more interested in Deke and Jimmy’s respective journeys. Deke is overly obsessed with the past, whereas Jimmy, who starts out treating this case the same as any other, starts to become just as obsessive on this current case as Deke with his. If there’s one theme this film carries through the whole film it’s the search for closure and how far we’re willing to go to get it. It’s this theme that both elevates this film and also hurts it.
To talk about my issues with this film, I have to traverse into spoiler territory. If spoilers aren’t your thing, continue on to the next paragraph. For everyone else, let’s talk about Jared Leto and the end of the second act. Both Deke and Jimmy are convinced that a man named Albert Sparma (Leto) is the murderer. He’s creepy as hell – he literally gets an erection looking at photos of a murder victim’s corpse- and does nothing to try and clear his name. Unfortunately, the final act of this film hinges on Jimmy getting into Sparma’s car to travel to the body of a missing person he claims to have killed and buried far from town. No detective in their right mind would get into a suspect’s car without calling for any backup, even if they claimed to be unarmed. Of course, the film tries to convince the viewer he isn’t in his right mind, but there is a definite leap of logic. Luckily, once the story moves to the open field where the body is said to have been buried, something less expected happens – I won’t spoil this – which brought me back into the film. The ending satisfies in a way I wasn’t expecting it to.
Because this is a Denzel Washington film, you know the acting will be good. He never half-asses any role. The Little Things is no exception. Every scene with Washington is great. Rami Malek, while no Washington, is no slouch himself and shows why we need to give him more major Hollywood roles. He’s come a long way since his Night at the Museum role of Pharaoh Ahkmenrah. As for Jared Leto, he was exactly what I expected. Not much work has to go into making him come off as a creep, and boy was he a creep. Had his role been bigger, I would have been annoyed, but it wasn’t. He was used just enough. As for the supporting cast, no one else really gets much to do, which is a real shame because Natalie Morales is in this film and damn, give her more to do Hollywood. Unfortunately, everyone is just a two-dimensional character in Washington and Malek’s narrative.
Is The Little Things an amazing film? No, of course not. At most it’s a tense yet enjoyable two hours watching a couple great actors. On one hand, I wish I could have seen this film in a theater as there are some really tense moments that would have played beautifully on a large screen in a dark room surrounded by a captive audience. On the other, the early reviews might have steered me away due to the lofty price tag of seeing a film in the modern era. But as a day-and-date theatrical/HBO Max release, watching it from the comfort of a nice reclining chair on a cloudy day with family was great. This film won’t win any awards, but it’s better than pre-release reviews give it credit for.
And before I end this review, I have to take a bit of umbrage in comparisons to the David Fincher film Se7en. While it’s been years since I’ve seen that film, a lot of people who haven’t seen the film will probably not go and seek it out simply due to Kevin Spacey’s involvement. Spacey is a shitty human being, and while I have always been able to separate art from the artist – Midnight In Paris is still a great film to revisit from time to time – no everyone can or wants to, and I respect that. Telling people to skip a film for another with a known abuser who is still alive and can profit off of his old roles still is simply odd to me
It’s not the best film you will see this year, but it isn’t the worst. If anything, it’s pretty good, and you can watch it now on HBO Max or in a drive-in or theater near you, if any are open.