We’re at that time of year in the UK right now where the rain falls pretty much every day and the sun is nowhere to be seen after 4PM. I don’t know about you, but those kinds of conditions always draw me towards the darker side of cinema. Now isn’t the time for a fluffy comedy, I’m looking for something a bit nasty that I can really get my teeth into. Step forward The Little Things, a movie with a stellar cast list that I hoped might be able to give me what I wanted.
Written and directed by John Lee Hancock, The Little Things is a neo-noir crime that tells the story of Kern County Deputy Sheriff Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) who teams up with Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) the lead detective who replaced him Los Angeles to investigate a series of killings of young women. With prime suspect Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) identified pretty early in proceedings, the narrative unfolds not as a typical ‘whodunnit’ but more as a psychological game of cat and mouse between those seeking the truth and those who might have something to hide.
I really wanted The Little Things to be a worthy partner to so many of the great crime dramas from eras past, particularly the 1990s, but there is just something about this effort that doesn’t quite work. In fact, if this *had* come out in, say, 1996, it might have faired better, but the old school feel of the film just comes over as rather pedestrian and out of date. When you learn that the first draft of the script was written in 1993, it all starts to make sense.
From start to finish, the film takes itself incredibly seriously, and it very quickly becomes a big turn off. I’m by no means saying that you need laughs along with your hard boiled procedural action, but there is no real sense of light and shade over the course of The Little Things, and it makes it quite a slog of a watch. This self seriousness is not helped at all by some really cliched and cringeworthy dialogue from all involved. You know when you play crime video games and the cut scenes are filled with real heavy handed, over the top ‘cop talk’? Well that’s what much of this feels like and it’s almost difficult to take it seriously as times, ironic given the very sober tone they are going for at all times.
What’s so annoying is that there are some kernels of resemblance to other works in the genre that I absolutely love. There is a touch of Se7en, a touch of Prisoners, even a slight touch of Silence Of The Lambs at different moments in the plot. Obviously, the larger flaws in the film prevent it from being anywhere near as good as any of those, but the frustration is that there is definitely a rough diamond in the story somewhere, it’s just a shame that nobody managed to properly mine it.
I’m a card carrying member of the Denzel Washington appreciation society, but he mostly fails to make an impact here. More the fault of the material than the performance, it must be said. As Joe Deacon, Washington definitely effuses that special ‘movie star’ quality that only a handful of his peers have. Even when he’s playing an antihero or a straight up antagonist, you can’t help but be drawn to him, and though he might not be purring in top gear here, Washington will always be an extremely watchable performer.
As Detective Jim Baxter, I’m tempted to go as far as saying that Rami Malek is straight up awful. The role doesn’t suit him, and he never looks quite comfortable in the neo-noir atmosphere of the film. Baxter is an extremely straight edged kind of character, not much room for doing anything other than reciting the over serious lines of dialogue, but I didn’t find anything to enjoy about Malek’s interpretation. He is the actor who gets burdened the largest amount of pretentious dialogue, and it does start to get really grating as the minutes go by.
Jared Leto is very much in his element here as key suspect Albert Sparma. Long, gross, greasy hair and a classic middle distance stare that would unnerve anyone, Leto appears to be an expect of making the mundane incredibly creepy. I’m surprised to see him pick up Golden Globe and SAG nominations for Best Supporting Actor because I think, along with the rest of the cast, he’s just fine rather than great, but there’s no doubt that he’s the most memorable element of the movie in general.
Overall, The Little Things might look on the surface to be a promising crime drama with a stellar cast list that harkens back to the golden days of the genre, but for me the comparison begin and end on that surface. Like I said, it has the look and feel of a classic 1990s offering, but a bad script and some unbalanced performances leave a bad taste in the mouth. It has its moments, but they are far too infrequent for me to recommend the film, especially in the midst of awards season where far better offerings are coming out each and every week.