John Lee Hancock’s The Little Things wants and tries to be something along the lines of Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991) or the first season of Nic Pizzolatto’s “True Detective” (2014).
But, unfortunately, it misses the mark. The potential was there in development, with three Oscar winning stars—Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto—plus Hancock’s own success with films like The Rookie (2002), The Blind Side (2008) and Saving Mr. Banks (2013).
Set throughout Los Angeles County and central California in 1990, The Little Things follows Deputy Sheriff Joe Deacon (Washington) as he is haunted by an old murder case that suddenly becomes relevant again with a recent string of young female murder victims.
Deacon is under pressure by his peers to retire after the circumstances surrounding the past case and now has competition from hotshot detective Jim Baxter (Malek). Along the way, Deacon’s still vulnerable mental state is challenged by the new investigation and Baxter is struggling to get a handle on repairman Albert Sparma (Leto), the top suspect of the killings. Natalie Morales and Michael Hyatt co-star as Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department associates of Deacon and Baxter, while Isabel Arraiza appears as Baxter’s wife.
The atmosphere and mood of The Little Things get it right with neo-noir like cinematography from John Schwartzman and fitting music score by Thomas Newman. Yet the vibe is wasted on a mostly boring story and film direction, with Hancock not really allowing any legitimate plot twists to add interest. The third act suffers from the mediocre thriller cliché of cops making unrealistic stupid decisions for the sake of moving the plot along.
Washington and Malek are fine as the leads, though both have much better and intriguing performances in their past work. Leto on the other hand, is hamming it up in some obvious dark contact lenses, but isn’t even amusing or memorable enough to make up for the dullness elsewhere on screen.
Whether it be that Hancock’s a little out-of-element with the crime-drama genre, or just a fluke, the new feature has the signs of a typical January release.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.