There’s a mystery at hand in THE LITTLE THINGS but beyond that there’s not much else to hold onto during and after director/writer John Lee Hancock’s film comes to a close. A January release in this still COVID-19 afflicted new year, THE LITTLE THINGS stood out amongst what one expects from a typical January release (i.e. a terrible film a studio has no faith in) by being buoyed by a trio of actors with a reputation. Denzel Washington, ever a steady presence, took lead, with up and comer Rami Malek as his on-screen partner, and they both were to to spend the entirety of this film chasing a long-haired and assumedly method Jared Leto, who may or may not be a serial killer terrorizing the deserts of 1990’s California.

At its core, THE LITTLE THINGS is a relatively no-frills, back to basics crime movie — and for the majority of its runtime Hancock plays his film to the line, never really taking any interesting detours in the meantime. From the production values — hardly doing much to legitimize it’s dated setting — and all the way down to its story, Hancock creates a work that is aggressively bland; a seemingly intentional design choice potentially made to house surprises but instead revealing it to be what it appears to be: a flat murder mystery. Strangely, the film, almost abstractly, throws the viewer into its story where we find Washington’s Joe Deacon — a detective now turned country cop — back entwined in a years ago murder spree that went unsolved. From what side characters espouse, Deacon’s mind and body eventually failed him as the perpetrator ran wild and uncaught, eventually leading the detective to his present day, in-the-sticks life. Teaming up with Malek’s up and coming detective, who also now finds himself struggling to figure out who and where the killer is, THE LITTLE THINGS at the very least presents the potential of an intriguing team up between two renowned actors. But even as it evades any unnecessary style or twists, Hancock’s film falls below even its minor aspirations.

The whole film moves like its sleepwalking, actors included. Sure, Mr. Washington brings a fortified hurt to his defamed detective-turned-cop, but Deacon still remains an aloof and cold character. Malek, potentially miscast as the new and serious young detective, Jim Baxter, can’t quite bring any legitimacy to his character’s gruff manner. In moments, the film almost seems to be playing with Malek’s character’s development, teasing at the idea of the frailty of men who play (or attempt to in Malek’s case) the “tough” cop but there’s not much digging into how the case affects him or his social life — portrayed in brief, mirthless interactions with his family. It’s all a lifeless endeavor that even Mr. Leto can’t quite enhance, overplaying (and revisiting) the snarky yet creepy suspect that may or may not be the guy Washington and Malek are looking for, resulting in a tired portrayal seen and executed better in many of this film’s other contemporaries.

What’s left is a murder-mystery that doesn’t really warrant any emotional investment. I simply could care less about the “who” and the “why” and was more interested in just seeing this movie get past all the plodding and reveal who the bad guy is. To his credit, Hancock too seems less interested in the murders and the murderer and more about the men at the center of it all, attempting in vain to show this mysterious case’s impact on these men but that’s hard to do when the characters themselves are more or less archetypes with nothing within. As the film goes on, subtle twists more concerned with the way Deacon’s life was destroyed by the case emerge, delving into the interesting areas of morality a job like law enforcement can drag its occupants into but as with the rest of the contents in this film, it’s only touched on. The resulting third act delivers an intriguing tweak to most crime finales, shuffling off any clear answers on the murder mystery itself and instead focusing on the mysterious actions of people making deadly and tragic mistakes.

It’s a quiet and slightly thought-provoking finale to a quiet film but if anything it’s a conclusion that has one wishing for a more solid film surrounding it. Indeed, with THE LITTLE THINGS its successes and faults can in fact be found in the little things that reside in the crime genre. As we find out, a murder mystery isn’t that intriguing if you don’t actually care about anyone involved.





Aspiring Movie Person. To get more personal follow @DaRealZamboni on Twitter.

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Justin Norris

Justin Norris

Aspiring Movie Person. To get more personal follow @DaRealZamboni on Twitter.

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