"The Little Things" stars Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto, Natalie Morales, Sofia Vassilieva, Terry Kinney, Michael Hyatt, Jason James Richter, Chris Bauer, and Kerry O'Malley. Released on January 29, 2021, the film has a deputy and a detective solving a murder mystery.
The film was written and directed by John Lee Hancock, who also directed films such as "The Rookie", "The Alamo", "The Blind Side", and "The Highwaymen". It looks like we made it through the first month of 2021, and so far, it has been pretty uneventful because of the lack of big theatrical releases. Then again, January isn't usually the best month for Hollywood to release a big movie. That's one thing that hasn't changed since the "Great COVID Panic of 2020" began. So how about we finish that month off with a film that features not one, not two, but three Oscar winners sharing the same screen? This marks the latest film from Warner Brothers to be released in theaters and on HBO Max since the studio made that shocking announcement a couple of months ago. "Wonder Woman 1984" was the first for the Warners to test out these rough waters, and the results so far have been a mixed bag. From what I read online, that film became the most-watched straight-to-streaming film of 2020, but its box office run so far has been nothing but lukewarm, mostly because of its word-of-mouth and the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it's far from a massive success as the real test for the studio's new strategy lies in its entire 2021 film slate, starting with this latest film from writer/director John Lee Hancock. Is the amount of star power on screen enough to successfully solve this mystery? Let's find out.
Set in 1990s Los Angeles, the story centers on two cops: Kern County Deputy Sheriff Joe "Deke" Deacon (Washington) and LAPD Detective Jim Baxter (Malek). They're both assigned to track down a serial killer who is known for capturing and murdering women. During this time, Deke is dealing with a dark secret from his past. Their search leads them to Albert Sparma (Leto), a repair store worker who may or may not be responsible for the crime. Hancock wrote the script back in 1993, which seemed fitting considering the film's setting. It was written for Steven Spielberg to direct, but he passed due to the story's dark nature. After being turned down by other directors, Hancock finally decided to helm his screenplay himself 16 years after writing the first draft. While I didn't mind Hancock directing his script since he has made a couple of solid movies during his career, I'm afraid to say that this would've worked better with someone else in the director's chair. There were some excellent ideas in the film that would've made it a dazzling and dramatic thrill ride, including the concept of being tormented by the sins of one's past. However, when it comes to Hancock's direction and script, the execution that was present in the film wasn't as satisfying and enticing as I hoped it would be. This issue might've been due to the film's pacing, runtime, and underwhelming story. The film's slow-burning approach is both a strength and weakness, depending on one's expectations. On the one hand, the slow pacing worked well in allowing its audience, including myself, to admire its grim and eye-opening cinematography as well as the cast. On the other hand, it'll force some viewers to check their watches frequently if the narrative wasn't compelling enough for them. It's more along the lines of a seesaw as it teeter-tottered between strength and weakness constantly with no clear indication on when it will end. The film's runtime didn't help that much either, as it clocked in a little bit over two hours. Combine that with its pacing, and you got yourself a case that overstayed its welcome. As for the story itself, it's a straightforward mystery drama that you would indeed find in the 1990s rental bin at a video store. It managed to grab my attention due to its concept and the crime aspect. Despite that, it lost its grip on my interest pretty quickly after a while. It felt like the plot forced me to play ten rounds of the waiting game, and each reward I got was more disappointing than the last, ranging from its lack of intense dramatic thrills to its mediocre conclusion. But if it weren't for the cast themselves, I would've been quick to call this a total snooze fest. Denzel Washington delivered a suitable performance as Joe Deacon, but compared to his other leading roles from the past, there's nothing too special about his part in "The Little Things". Well, aside from the fact that this was the most dramatic performance I've seen from him. Rami Malek also performed decently as Jim Baxter, while Jared Leto put his acting skills to good use yet again as he delivered another impressive, if not creepy, performance as Albert Sparma. All three of the main actors did their part to keep me focused on its story, and to me, that's all that matters. This is one of the films that have the cast shining more brightly than their narratives, for better and for worse.
Overall, "The Little Things" is the type of case that can be difficult to crack for those with the wrong mindset. People who enjoy watching slow-burning crime thrillers may find some small things in the film that might be worth their time. Sadly, those little things weren't enough to overshadow its disappointing story, slow pacing, and Hancock's flawed sense of direction. I happened to enjoy a couple of moments, such as the cast and its cinematography. Other than that, this is one case that I don't want to revisit anytime soon.