“It’s the little things that rip you apart. It’s the little things that get you caught.” -Joe “Deke” Deacon
That’s the mantra of Denzel Washington’s character in The Little Things. It’s a good line and he delivers it well. Unfortunately it’s the big things that get ignored and make a potentially great neo-noir serial killer film just another genre pic.
There are a lot of elements in this film. Oh, so so so many elements. The Little Things is a period piece set in 1990 Los Angeles. (side note: that movies set in the 90s are now considered period pieces reminds me of my age, shout out Class of ’90!) LA was still on edge from the Night Stalker killings. Deke is a former LA County Detective who is in self-exile at a small town department who returns to his old stomping grounds. An ex-wife. An ex-coworker with a secret and a crush. His replacement that is a by-the-book guy (until he’s not). A serial killer on the loose. A super creepy suspect. A remote spot perfect for burying bodies. A soundtrack that’s trying so very hard to be poignant.
So very many elements. Everything from every serial killer/crime/pulpy/thriller movie ever.
The Little Things has three big stars: Denzel, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto, Oscar winners all. Rami is the semi-erstwhile detective, Jim Baxter, that replaced Deke while Jared takes his creepy vibe next level as the suspect, Albert Sparma. That is a lot of talent.
Unfortunately, the script not only fails to maximize talent, it weighs down the talent.
The, script; is horribly. Disjointed.
Major plot points just sort of happen without a lot of fanfare. Just like: hey, audience! You should probably know this. And the big reveal isn’t all that. But by that point in the movie, you don’t really care.
The script doesn’t inform the performances at all. Jim is supposed to be golden but is too easily tarnished. Sparma is creepy, as all serial killer suspects should be. But it gets to the point where he is consciously creepy, overemphasizing every stride and glance just in case we hadn’t gotten the hint.
As for Denzel, he’s a king. Even the worst script is improved with him bringing it to life. But while he raises the minimum, he can’t take it over the top here. Not everything can be Training Day (we should be so lucky), but here does his best while being underused.
At the end of the day, it’s a genre pic that will blend in and be quickly forgotten, the type of movie that you’ll watch and quickly forget. It’s in theaters but you can also stream it on HBO Max for less than the cost of two tickets.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
Serial killer thrillers usually make me need a drink to calm my nerves. Not the case here. Still, I’ll have a Busch Light, the choice beer of Albert Sparma. A little thing from the movie.