VOD film review: The Little Things
James R | On 11, Mar 2021
Director: John Lee Hancock
Cast: Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto
“Things have probably changed a lot since you left.” “You still gotta catch him, right?” That’s the sound of the latest detective double-act arriving on our screens in The Little Things, a dour crime drama that’s not quite as arresting as it’d like to be. Deputy Sheriff Joe “Deke” Deacon” is a veteran lawman, working for years catching the bad guys but never rising through the ranks. Sergeant Jim Baxter is a young, climbing detective with ambition and confidence. One’s haunted by the past, the other risks his career by bringing the outsider on to a case. Sound familiar? That’s because it is.
John Lee Hancock’s film begins with a serial killer terrorising the city of Los Angeles. When Deke ends up in the city to gather evidence, he’s recruited by Baxter to lend his years of insight and instinct for details to the hunt. Deke, however, has personal reasons that connect the case to his own history – while Baxter’s trying to find the culprit for the young women who have been killed, Deke is trying to find them to exorcise his own demons.
The result is the kind of dynamic we’ve seen countless times before, although The Little Things benefits from having two strong leads bringing it to life. Rami Malek plays Baxter with an uneasy, awkward air that stops him being the two-dimensional boy in blue that he might once have been – he’s already primed to be swallowed whole by the nasty obsessions of his job, although you half expect him to turn out to be the villain. Denzel Washington, meanwhile, is as sublime as ever, balancing smiling camaraderie with a brooding intensity, elevating what could have been a stereotypical role into something intriguingly darker.
Watching two male cops consumed by their work, though, is still nothing new, and The Little Things recalls everything from Seven and Zodiac to True Detective in its existential and moral preoccupations. Hancock’s visuals are sharp, and his evocation of the shadowy world these men inhabit is atmospheric, but the script is a little too plodding and lacking in suspense. The surprise that this is an original screenplay, and not an adaptation of a hard-boiled best-selling novel, is telling in itself. It doesn’t help when Jared Leto turns up late on as a strange suspect, dialling everything up to 12. (You suspect it would benefit from more time spent with Natalie Morales’ Detective Estrada or Michael Hyatt’s scene-stealing coroner Flo Dunigan.)
A deliberately downbeat denouement ends things on an interesting, nuanced note, but the effect gets slightly lost in the hum of genre conventions, complete with a soundtrack by Thomas Newman that veers from sinister to strangely sentimental. “The guy’s a shark. If he stops, he dies,” muses Deke, with all the gravitas Washington can muster. The same is true of the rest of the film.