Years ago, The Bee Gees sang, “How a love so right, can turn out to be so wrong?” Substitute “cast” for “love” and the same can be sung about the film, THE LITTLE THINGS. Starring three Academy Award winners, this neo-noir crime drama is a huge disappointment at best.
It’s sometime in the early 1990s and Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel Washington, producer of MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM) is a Kern County deputy sheriff in Bakersfield, California, located about 180 km north of Los Angeles. After he arrives at the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to collect some evidence pertaining to a recent murder, hot shot detective Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY; SHORT TERM 12) learns that Deke used to have his job before he arrived at the department five years earlier. Jimmy invites Deke to the scene of a gruesome murder and Deke notices similarities between it and a serial murder case he was never able to solve. Deke offers to stick around L.A. for a few days and work with Jimmy on the case, and their investigation soon points to Albert Sparma (Jared Leto, BLADE RUNNER 2049; SUICIDE SQUAD; DALLAS BUYERS CLUB), a loner and crime geek who works in an appliance repair shop. If Sparma is the serial killer, he doesn’t make it easy for the two detectives to prove. Deke, though, is persistent, saying that it’s the little things that will ultimately trip Sparma up.
Writer-producer-director John Lee Hancock (SAVING MR. BANKS; THE FOUNDER) has crafted a throwback tale of a time when forensic analysis was a crude science and DNA typing was still a few years off. It should be old-school interesting but it isn’t. Instead, the story plays out like an extended episode of a mediocre TV crime series from the ’90s where the drama is unearned and the intrigue is absent, rather than being something deliciously off-kilter in the vein of TV’s MINDHUNTER or the first season of TV’s TRUE DETECTIVE. Throughout the film, Hancock dangles a mystery about Deacon’s past – he was the most celebrated detective when he was in Los Angeles yet he was never promoted, his old captain still bears quite a bit of animosity toward him, he suffered a heart attack right before he left for Bakersfield, he got divorced at around the same time and is still estranged from his daughters today, the county coroner is in on whatever went on back then, and more. Yet, when we finally learn what the big secret is, it’s all one gaping yawn with many of those issues left unresolved by the time the final credits roll. That’s not the worst though. Malek and especially Leto should be stripped of their Oscars for their performances here. To call them both “wooden” is an insult to trees. Jimmy is the cocksure, department’s golden boy – the worthy successor to Deacon – yet he makes forehead-slapping rookie cop mistakes throughout the story. Even good acting can compensate for bad writing but that’s not the case here. As for Leto, if the actor was ever concerned about being typecast as someone who only plays creepy characters, he needn’t be worried anymore. Leto has all the nuance here of bathroom caulking. Is Sparma the serial killer? Who cares! That leaves Washington, who puts in the best performance of the three but that’s an extremely low bar to leap over. While he makes the most of the lousy hand he was dealt, this is not his finest work by a mile.
For a film that’s supposed to be about little things, there are no little things to be found here. The little things that crack a case open or the little things that eat us up inside don’t happen. There is a big thing, though, and it’s the story. It’s beyond dull and so full of plot holes that three accomplished actors can’t even rescue it.
THE LITTLE THINGS is available now on HBO Max. You can safely give it a miss.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, February 12th, 8:30 am HK time!
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