Thematically speaking, John Lee Hancock’s The Little Things approaches new territory for the cop vs. killer subgenre. There are real efforts made to conjure up a mood of regret, a still cloud of melancholy hanging over 90’s Los Angeles, a city at the mercy of deadly killings and the men who perpetrate them on unsuspecting women. Narratively speaking, it’s somewhat inert and incoherent whilst not being all that complex either. Besides, we’ve been here before, as far back as the mid-90’s when Seven hit the scene and altered the course of crime cinema forever. To some extent, the last thirty minutes here feel entirely lifted from Fincher’s long-ago masterpiece, right down to plot beats and desert locations. Aging and weary, Deke (Denzel Washington) is a former detective-turned-small town sheriff’s deputy. He made a mistake many moons ago and now lives with that mistake every day, punishing himself for it by banishing his own career to the nether regions of a nearby county. He has an opportunity for redemption, to make it up to himself, when the same killer returns down south. Having filled the vacuum left in his absence, a talented detective Baxter (Rami Malek) is hot on the killer’s trail without a clue as to where to look off-trail until good ol’ Deke comes around for a simple errand. Baxter looks up to him, and so the slick young detective brings Deke on board and soon brief moonlighting as a consultant turns into an ongoing investigative partnership. The Little Things works best when allowing Denzel and Rami the opportunity to play off one another, the two characters wallowing in each other’s presence. They enjoy an awkwardly endearing chemistry that could’ve been overstated and played for silly laughs in the wrong hands, but Hancock keeps a straight face, giving these actors ample room to breathe and make us laugh anyways. As possibly the killer in question, Jared Leto does what he can to enliven a walking, limping stereotype. From his long greasy hair to his unseemly gait, Hancock has bestowed upon Albert Sparma every creepy/strange little trait we’ve already seen in the likes of The Usual Suspects and countless other whodunnits. Leto imbues this creepazoid with an off-balance sense of humor, something that he uses to constantly taunt and undermine the brothers in blue surrounding him. The Little Things gets by on good casting and an atmospheric dread that mostly, if not completely, papers over its many narrative shortcomings.
Currently in theaters and streaming on HBO MAX