The Little Things (2021)
The Little Things (2021)

Genre: Crime Drama and Thriller Running Time: 2 hrs. 7 min.

Release Date: January 29th, 2021 MPAA Rating: R

Director: John Lee Hancock Actors: Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto, Chris Bauer, Michael Hyatt, Natalie Morales, Isabel Arraiza, Sofia Vassilieva

 


 

I

n October of 1990, on a dark, isolated road in California, a young woman is terrorized by a mysterious driver. When she pulls off the road at a rest stop, she’s pursued on foot across a patch of desert – tripping and falling as she runs at a breakneck speed, while her stalker maintains a slow, deliberate pace. It’s a classic yet somewhat disappointing opening for a serial killer premise (and for every iconic, supernatural horror murderer of the ‘70s and ‘80s), even if the setting is prior to the disruptive and complicating nature of advanced technology (like the ubiquitous iPhone).

A short time later, Kern County Sheriff’s patrolman Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) is sent to Los Angeles to help with an evidentiary delivery. But plenty of bureaucratic red tape and haughty peers stand in the way of a routine assignment. Eating at everyone in the area is a string of murders spanning the last two months, with a fourth woman having recently been found stabbed to death – slaughters that remind law enforcement of the terrors of the Night Stalker (and the Zodiac killer). Top detective Sergeant Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek) heads up the investigation, partnered with Jamie Estrada (Natalie Morales), but the lack of leads unnerves the entire department. Perhaps Joe’s unexpected delay in the city will give him an opportunity to dig up clues that would have otherwise been missed by the slicker, sharper-suited higher-ups.

“When’s your boy Columbo gonna break my case for me?” Though the setup is generic, and there are a wealth of details surrounding unrelated cases to give insight into Deacon’s considerable career, the introductions are still handled with care. The seriousness with which the characters and situations are conducted is nicely fitting. The tone resembles “Seven,” intermittently drifting in and out of a horror movie vibe, while the design is closer to “Zodiac,” taking its time to develop the players and the crime scenes. Here, Washington does reflection and deliberation well, literally haunted by the unavenged victims of unsolved cases as he muses over pain and loss. This isn’t an action-packed undertaking; the drama overshadows chases or the sudden reveal of a mutilated corpse, which is a bygone yet refreshing strategy.

One of the things that works best about “The Little Things” (an outrageously pitiful title) is that it’s arranged to be a mystery for the audience right alongside the detectives. Snippets of the antagonist’s conduct are shown, but various revelations are doled out reservedly, allowing viewers to keep up with the investigators. What doesn’t work as well, however, is the trite notion that Deacon is a dangerously obsessed, former top cop, whose uncommon skills are somehow unwanted amid the arrow-straight, refined procedures (and egos) of the L.A. crew. The pairing of opposites is nevertheless an appropriate, almost effortless combination, and one that holds interest in a cinematic medium. “Don’t get mixed up with this guy.”

Despite the unhurried storytelling (at times feeling like a couple of episodes of “True Detective” or “Mindhunter” strung together), the consistency with which clues are discovered and suspects encountered keeps things engaging. This likely wouldn’t have been possible if not for the acting; Washington, Malek, and, eventually, Jared Leto (playing person-of-interest Albert Leonard Sparma) are all in top form, relishing the moments of devious cat-and-mouse games and riveting verbal sparring (aided by a sharply attuned soundtrack). “The truth is, I’m not the guy.” By the end, with so few cast members, there’s only a couple of ways it could all shake out, yet the film opts to include at least one terribly exasperating cliche en route to the amusingly unpredictable (though not entirely satisfying) finale – a feat that gets increasingly more difficult as these types of crime thrillers exhaust twisty variations.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10