THE LITTLE THINGS movie poster | ©2021 Warner Bros.

THE LITTLE THINGS movie poster | ©2021 Warner Bros.

Rating: R
Stars: Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto, Chris Bauer, Michael Hyatt, Terry Kinney, Natalie Morales, Isabel Arraiza, Joris Jarsky, Glenn Morshower, Sofia Vassilieva
Writer: John Lee Hancock
Director: John Lee Hancock
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Release Date: January 29, 2021

THE LITTLE THINGS is a police detective story that aims to carry more weight than it achieves. It’s not that it doesn’t have anything to say, but rather that it takes the long way round to get there.

Set primarily in early ‘90s Los Angeles (with bits in Kern County), THE LITTLE THINGS focuses on the search for a serial killer. Denzel Washington plays Joe “Deke” Deacon, now a deputy with the Bakersfield sheriff’s department. However, when an errand takes Deke down to L.A., we learn that he was once a star detective with the LAPD.

Current rising luminary detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) thinks he could perhaps learn a few things from Deke. For his part, Deke thinks Jim’s current case may be related to one Deke never cleared. As the two join forces, their quest to find a ritualistic murderer of young women is one mystery. Another, perhaps bigger enigma is exactly why Deke, a clearly driven soul, ever left the LAPD.

Director/writer John Hancock has something in mind here, and by the end, it’s clear what it is. The conclusion is interesting, and sort of affecting. But THE LITTLE THINGS doesn’t take us on a journey with the characters that lets us feel the impact on them. There’s also a choice, near the climax, that feels like a stretch for the sake of drama. This takes place before cell phones, not before certain commonsense practices.

There are likewise early logic glitches. In the opening sequence, a young woman (Sofia Vassilieva), driving at night and singing along to “Roam” by the B-52’s, realizes that she’s being stalked on the lonely road by the car behind her. In fact, she’s right about this, but since the car isn’t tailgating her, we wonder how she deduces this and why she doesn’t try to simply drive ahead of the other vehicle. We spend a good portion of THE LITTLE THINGS waiting for an explanation that never arrives.

THE LITTLE THINGS movie poster | ©2021 Warner Bros.

THE LITTLE THINGS movie poster | ©2021 Warner Bros.

Hancock has atmosphere to burn, with old wooden slat shutters and tinted glass nodding to the film noir of yesteryear. He fully convinces us of the stench of murder sites, does a great job of finding locations that show no sign of the current century, and creates a look of desolation that extends from grimy motels to the desert, the better to reflect the inner states of his people.

Washington, Malek and Jared Leto all deliver fine performances. Washington is adept at many things, but he especially excels at giving us sorrowful men who cannot get past their own failings. This makes him ideal casting for Deke. While this isn’t what THE LITTLE THINGS is about, and certainly not all films with Black actors are required to be, it seems faintly odd in a film released in 2021 that Deke, a veteran of the LAPD from the ‘70s and ‘80s, makes only one mild reference to racism on the force.

Malek, often cast as outsiders, shows that he can play an ambitious thought principled insider with the best of them. Leto is clearly having a blast while making his character everything he should be to propel Deke and Jim’s reactions to him.

THE LITTLE THINGS is for fans of brooding police procedurals who love good acting and investigative process, and don’t mind that the frills aren’t as engaging as we might hope.

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