On paper, a crime drama with Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto screams good cinema — maybe even a possible attempt at awards season.
Not this film.
Fitted with outlandish writing and underwhelming characters, The Little Things is a disappointing attempt at a genre that has been pulled through the Hollywood ringer.
Written and directed by John Lee Hancock, The Little Things follows Joe Deacon (Washington), a deputy sheriff who teams up with hot-shot detective Jimmy Baxter (Malek) as they investigate a series of murders that beckon back to an old case of Deacon’s. During the course of their investigation, Deacon and Baxter hone in on the unsettling Albert Sparma (Leto), and things go awry.
Though the trailer points to the typical neo-noir type of crime drama that predecessors like Se7en and The Silence of the Lambs have successfully achieved, The Little Things falls short. Rather, the film drags viewers along for a two-hour journey that deviates from what’s expected and has one-too-many twists for its own good.
Where Hancock goes haywire with the film is its lack of development. Washington, Malek, and Leto are all A-listers who have the chops to create a memorable film. Nevertheless, their characters are as flat as can be and are more so archetypes than anything else. Washington plays the troubled cop with a mysterious backstory, Malek is the golden boy detective who’s determined to avenge the victims and Leto is the weirdo who could or couldn’t be the killer.
These characters aren’t anything new or special, and though Leto steals each scene he’s in and Washington is usually above par in everything he touches, Malek’s lack of emoting reaffirms the blandness of these characters.
That lack of character depth is met with questionable writing that doesn’t perpetuate the grittiness of a crime drama. Having Washington comment on Leto buying a roast beef sandwich or screaming “your d--- is as hard as Chinese arithmetic” at the tops of his lungs during interrogation isn’t memorable for the right reasons. Some lines in the movie garner more laughs than chills — something Hancock probably didn’t intend.
Despite these glaring issues within the film, what really troubles The Little Things is its overly ambitious plot. Hancock attempts to point to bigger themes and storylines when, in reality, he should’ve aimed for a simple serial killer film. His over-ambitiousness results in the last act filled with not one, not two, but three plot twists. In fact, no real action or tenseness happens in the movie until its final 45 minutes or so.
These twists, a heavy number of religious allusions that go undeveloped and an ending that doesn’t justify the previous two hours amass for yet another unsuccessful attempt at the neo-noir genre. Despite Washington, Leto and even Malek trying to do their best with what they’re given, The Little Things lacks in almost every regard, resulting in an unfulfilling watch whether you’re at the theater or at home watching via HBO Max.