Directed by: John Lee Hancock
Written by: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto
Remember how in the 90’s we used to get a lot of cop-centric serial killer thrillers? Whether that be Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, The Glimmer Man or Fallen. The Little Things feels like a throwback to those kinds of films and it marks a transition for John Lee Hancock, who is more known for Oscar-Bait dramas like The Blind Side and The Founder. The transition is relatively unsuccessful and the film itself stands in the shadow of the films it reminds you of.
A serial killer of prostitutes is loose in California in 1990. Deputy sheriff Joe Deakin (Denzel Washington) and detective Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek) investigate the case and stumble across a prime suspect, a car dealer named Albert (Jared Leto), who they end up investigating thoroughly.
The Little Things goes for a dialogue heavy, slow burn approach with its story. This could have been commendable, but it results in a film that is brutally boring and tedious in it’s pacing, with little excitement or suspense to command attention. There are individual scenes that are certainly interesting and even tense, but on the whole, it is anaemic and bland. There is little violence as well, which would have at least got a reaction.
The story itself also feels largely by the numbers and predictable for the first two acts. The third act tries to be deliberately unsatisfying and morally ambiguous, especially in a couple of reveals. But whilst conceptually interesting, it makes the proceeding film feel like a waste of time and does not take the time to properly explore or critique the potentially complex moral quandary. Some might find the conclusion problematic, but it is too limp to even trigger that response.
The pacing could have been manageable if the characters were at all interesting, but unfortunately, Deke and Jimmy are very dull characters, with both being your typical troubled, obsessed and determined cops. Deke is slightly more developed, but his character still remains a cliche. Neither Malek nor Washington bring much to their roles. Washington sometimes has energy but is largely one note and Malek is the same, with the latter feeling very miscast in a role that calls for something like Brad Pitt in Se7en but has none of the same spark. Leto is the only actor who brings any life as the off-putting and strange Albert (it says something when Jared Leto showing up in a film is a sign that it is improving), yet even his cliched and clunky dialogue overwhelms him.
Lee Hancock’s direction and editing are both big problems too, as not only is the camerawork mostly flat aside from a few nice shots, but the shot length is way too short. Rather than let shots linger, Lee Hancock instead cuts rapidly, resulting in a slow experience that does not draw you in. Thomas Newman’s score is admittedly strong and adds atmosphere that this film is lacking and the general look is pleasing, but overall Lee Hancock’s transition to this genre is True Detective by way of Law and Order.
The Little Things is by no means terrible, but it is aggressively dull and mediocre. You could do far worse in terms of crime thrillers, Dark Crimes and The Snowman being especially bad recent examples, but you could also do far better.