2021 | R | starring Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto | written & directed by John Lee Hancock | 2 hrs 7 mins |
I’m no expert on the craft of acting, but I’ll have to give it a shot with The Little Things, a movie that boasts a promise of 3 master thespians going head-to-head in a moody serial killer thriller. Two character actors – Jared Leto and Rami Malek – and Denzel Washington, who remains one of our best modern performers precisely because of his effortless ability to slide between both traditional Leading Man role and character actor. Washington can generate more chemistry with a dog then most actors can with their co-stars. But crucial to all that, is that the material needs to be juicy.
Deke Deacon (Denzel Washington) returns to the force after suffering a heart attack and finds the details of a series of murders point to a serial killer. Teaming up with a hard-nosed state trooper (Rami Malik) the two different styles hone in on a killer (Jared Leto) who they just can’t pin down.
Leto is a lot of fun here, he spends the entire film looking like that meme of himself emerging from a Meditation retreat and learning about Coronavirus weeks after the rest of the world. He’s playing it a bit like Paul Dano in Prisoners. Actually, the entire movie feels reminiscent of Denis Velleneuve’s morally ambiguous kidnapping film in a way that invites unfavorable comparisons. That movie has an immersive mood, complicated questions and knocks the procedural elements out of the park. In contrast, The Little Things is built on a house of clichés. It is set in Southern California just a few hours outside of LA which might as well be the surface of the moon to this movie. Tone is an issue, pace is an issue, the theme is fuzzy, urgency is muted. It is an experience in watching potential just drain out of the film before your eyes. Three great actors put in a thoroughly standard issue, mediocre cop film that never shifts out of first gear.
The anemic execution here lies squarely at the feet of writer/director John Lee Hancock. A studio water carrier if there ever was one, Hancock’s career is dotted with The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks, The Alamo, The Founder and The Highwaymen, all films easily shaved of any edges and commercially packaged for mass consumption. Hancock can’t get his hands around the nasty, morally grey corners required of The Little Things. He can’t get his hands around the entire genre. This is as close to an un-commercial indie project as he’s had and he futzes around getting the details of the clichés right (the cops give Deke a hard time for coming back to early, is he still up to the job?) that the movie doesn’t have a moment of suspense or urgency.
What we end up with is Oscar bait, performances without a lot of meat at the service of very little in a movie that isn’t challenging or thrilling at all. It doesn’t reveal things, it plods from one plot point to the next just to keep itself going. This kind of crime film requires a lot more than what Hancock brings to the table.