“The Little Things” is a serial killer thriller, a decidedly uncommon genre. Unfortunately, the “The Little Things” makes you wish it were even rarer.
The film, written and directed by John Lee Hancock, stars Denzel Washington as deputy sheriff Joe Deacon who is called to Los Angeles to respond to a recent murder. Deacon is a former LA detective and is called in to consult on the case with lead detective Jimmy Baxter, played by Rami Malek of “Bohemian Rhapsody” fame. The cast is rounded out by mostly C-list actors with the exception of Jared Leto, known for his roles in “Suicide Squad” and “Dallas Buyers’ Club.” The film follows the investigation into a spree of killings combined with the intrigue and interplay between older detective Deacon and younger detective Baxter.
The film’s primary issue comes from a simple facet: it feels like a rip-off of a 90s movie, specifically of all the bad serial killer, mystery and thriller movies from the 90s. This is fitting because Hancock’s original draft of the script was written in 1993. The vibe from this era of film is exhaustingly prevalent from the script to the cinematography. It does not do the film any favors.
The movie is laid out like a puzzle much like other mysteries. Other movies usually invigorate this mysterious element with incredibly charismatic performances by leading actors. However, we have a surprising performance from Washington in “The Little Things.” It’s not that Washington’s acting is off kilter. It’s the writing. Washington knows how to play fleshed out characters with emotional backstories. This movie just doesn’t let him do that. It pigeonholes Washington into a role that is decidedly vanilla for a man of Washington’s acting caliber. Malek also has issues with his performance in the regard that he’s not very convincing as a police detective. Malek is far more partial to the quirkier submissive roles than a supposedly authoritative and dominant detective. He also suffers from the writing.
Jared Leto’s performance is particularly appropriate given he’s playing a perverted wierdo. Leto has a long-documented history of strange behavior and he apparently sources this to play the two detective’s prime suspect. The criticism of this character though is that Hancock clearly is just using a serial killer stock trope. Leto could just as easily been replaced with Kevin Spacey’s character from “Seven” and it would have been virtually no different.
Now that “Seven” has been mentioned, it can be further driven home that the films are incredibly similar. The interaction between the two detectives, the style of the murders, even the finale of the film offers a lift from “Seven.” Unfortunately, “The Little Things” works less like a spiritual successor than I think Hancock would like. It mostly just makes me want to turn off “The Little Things” and watch some of David Fincher’s classics. Those scripts at least feel fresh despite their age.
“The Little Things” is one that you can skip. It just feels like an attempt to throw something out that might do well because many movie studios think moviegoers are stupid. A lot of the time they are, but not on this one. “The Little Things” receives a D rating.