Directed by: John Lee Hancock
Written by: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto, Chris Bayer, Michael Hyatt, Terry Kinney
Released: February 18, 2021
Grade: C+

The Little Things

Over the Christmas holidays, I had the chance to revisit David Fincher’s Zodiac.  It remains one of the finest serial killer movies ever made.  The focus is not so much on the killer, his identity and his motives, but rather the impact on the frustrated detectives working the case.  I’ll never forget the tagline – there’s more than one way to lose your life to a killer.

The Little Things wants to follow in Zodiac’s footsteps – in that it’s more about the detectives than the killer – but it’s inferior in almost every way.  It’s hard to believe three Oscar winning actors could be involved with something so unsatisfying.  I can only assume the original idea of writer-director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, Saving Mr Banks) looked more attractive as a pitch than as a finished product.

The first half of the movie is a slow, tedious exploration of Denzel Washington’s character.  He plays Joe Deacon, a grey-haired deputy sheriff stuck doing dead-end jobs and living in a dilapidated home.  It’s as if he hasn’t smiled in a decade.  He clearly has a backstory and we soon learn he once had a very high-profile role within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.  Supporting characters interact with Joe cryptically (hinting at the past but never spelling it out) so as to drag things out as long as possible.  This plot device is overused to the point of becoming frustrating.

The film’s second half is about the ongoing investigation into a series of murders and the interrogation of a key suspect.  Detective Jim Baxter (Malek) teams up with “Kojak” Joe (that in itself lacks logic) and they start trailing a loner named Albert Sparma (Leto) in search of evidence and a motive.  The softly spoken Albert is bizarrely enjoying the attention but he’s quick to inform he’s not the man they’re searching for.

I enjoyed the unsettling music score from Thomas Newman (The Shawshank Redemption) and the cinematography of John Schwartzman (Seabiscuit) but when it comes to the more important ingredients of narrative and performance, The Little Things is lacking.  Perhaps I’m part of the minority view given the puzzling awards season love for Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) who picked up Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations for best supporting actor.  I don’t get it.  There’s minimal development in terms of character and the role requires little more than a creepy voice.

The shaky screenplay also limits the performances of Denzel Washington (Training Day) and Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody).  Perhaps the most laughable sequence is where a tormented, drooling Denzel is lying in bed and trying to find a connection between mugshots posted on his motel wall.  As for the continually brooding Rami, I don’t understand how an intelligent detective with a wealth of resources needs to rely so heavily on one man.

Hollywood productions with big-name stars are a rare commodity in Australian cinemas right now given the impacts of COVID-19.  It’s a shame this isn’t worth recommending.