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The Little Things Movie Review: They Always Hang Around

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BY March 16, 2021

As a dedicated reader of mystery/thrillers, every element of The Little Things feels familiar. But does that mean it’s not worth watching? We’ll discuss that and more in my review of the movie The Little Things.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before

The older cop with who’s seen it all and then some. The ambitious younger cop who seems at first like he thinks he knows best. A suspect played by an actor with some skeletons in his real-life closet. But enough about the movie Seven–let’s talk about The Little Things. Oh, wait–that’s also The Little Things.

And it’s also basically every other mystery/thriller I read, as well as several movies and TV procedurals. Even the casting is familiar. Denzel Washington, after all, won an Academy Award for playing a different flavor of troubled cop in Training Day. Sofia Vassilieva, who plays Tina, the first victim we meet, has appeared on two episodes of Law & Order: SVU, playing a character who was victimized in each episode. And then there’s the fourteenth worst Joker, who is truly playing a variation of his DAMAGED mode in this movie. Even the title, while meaningful to Washington’s character’s philosophy and the plot overall, feels generic. On that note–pun intended–let me just get this out of my system.

And I’m back. Anyway, like the upcoming Mena Suvari movie Paradise Cove, there’s a throwback feel to this movie. Not only are there the Seven comparisons, but it also makes you think of movies like The Bone Collector, and not just because that also starred Washington. (Speaking of movies that did or could have starred Denzel, ahem.) Here, before I give my Little Things movie review, let me just tell you the plot summary so you have a better grasp of what I’m saying.

There’s A Killer On The Road: The Little Things Spoiler-Free Plot Summary

the little things movie review image via Warner Brothers

Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel Washington) used to be a detective in Los Angeles. However, when he worked a particularly thorny case, it ruined his life. He got so obsessed with it, as they tell it, that it cratered his marriage, his career, and even his health–he had a goshdarn heart attack. Now he lives and works in relatively quieter Kern County.

On a trip down to LA to retrieve some evidence, though, he finds out about an ongoing serial case. (Regarding the cases themselves, it’s nothing you haven’t heard before–a little sexual sadism, the victims are mostly sex workers, etc.) That brings him into the orbit of Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), who’s essentially the new Deke. Unsurprisingly then, we’ll watch Jim develop a growing and grossly unhealthy obsession with the case, one that threatens to up-end his life in a similar fashion.

Deke is a close watcher of the titular little things, the small details that others might not notice, but that can become crucial to an investigation. Sifting through that stuff is how Deke ends up finding Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), whom Deke believes is a very usual suspect. (I don’t know why I’m making all these Kevin Spacey allusions all of a sudden. I will labor to stop.) Once he and Jim have Sparma in their sights, the movie shifts from procedural to a kind of cat-and-mouse thriller.

The Little Things Movie Review

On some levels, this all works. Again, it’s absolutely nothing new, but that can still be good and entertaining and even soothing in its predictability. There’s a slow-moving Zodiac vibe to the first two-thirds of the movie that can be very satisfying–not a cell phone in sight, just detectives investigating in the moment. Then Sparma shows up. And it all goes sideways.

the little things movie review image via Warner Brothers

First of all, there’s Leto’s performance. Like Ezra Miller and the many, let’s just say, BOLD choices he’s making as The Stand‘s Trashcan Man, you’ll either love it or really, really hate it. I fall into the second camp. For me, there’s never a moment in which you’re unaware that this is a character. Leto might as well have shown up and announced, “I’m ACTING!” for how obvious it is. His performance obliterates any shred of menace or mystery a character like his should have.

But his performance isn’t the only major flaw as the movie ambles toward its conclusion. This film was written in a different time, and it feels like it. Sometimes that works, as in the procedural parts, but ultimately it doesn’t. We don’t think about policing and police officers the same way we did 30 years ago. So the final twists, which almost seem to position the detectives as the real victims in all this, don’t play as well as they might once have.

Maybe that’s the point, though, as the denouement also twists Deke’s focus on the little things into something ugly. But I’m not actually sure, since we’re left with an ambiguous ending for a movie that fundamentally feels lesser than the sum of its parts–just a bunch of weightless little things.

But tell me what y’all think–comment below or on our social media.

featured image via Warner Brothers

Movies

Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf. Email her at salome@comicyears.com.

The Little Things

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