The Little Things Review
A murder-mystery that is less focussed on finding the killer than investigating the mental state of its supposed heroes.
Kern County Deputy Sheriff Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) is sent to Los Angeles for what should have been a quick evidence-gathering assignment. Instead, he becomes embroiled in the search for a serial killer who is terrorizing the city. Teaming up with young hot-shot detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), Joe goes down the rabbit hole with this creepy killer, all the while deeply affected by the case that ran him out of the city decades ago.
The Little Things is the exact sort of adult, thinking film that could welcome you back to the cinema with open arms. It’s a hard-boiled detective drama, rooted in creepy cops and even creepier killers.
The plot unfurls relatively similarly to a number of other detective thrillers, with overtones of Prisoners and Zodiac. Our hero teams up with a younger version of himself. Joe is jaded, and has given up on big city life after a case that went wrong. But it keeps sucking him back in, particularly with this case. He used to be a high-flyer, but then the moral complexities of his choices caught up with him, and he broke down - his health, his marriage and his career all in one hit. He sees himself in Jim, and Jim sees a man whose prowess could help him crack a case that is garnering media scrutiny and could affect his career.
Washington plays Joe as a deeply troubled but brilliant detective, with an overbite and an unassuming manner. Malek brings a distinctly weird tone to his well-dressed detective, brilliance early on that transforms into a great psycho-analysis of an obsessed man who compromises his morality. But the true superstar of this piece is Jared Leto. Leto, recently nominated for a Golden Globe award for this performance, brings a level of creepy that echoes some of his other performances but also revolutionises them into a unique piece. Physically, vocally and even through the eyes, the performance really sucks you in to both hating this character, and seeing him as an equal villain to oppose Joe’s detective hero.
In the end, the film takes an intriguing complexity to morality. It’s less obsessed with finding evidence to convict the killer, and more obsessed with the police subverting their own moral compass in search of justice. Justice is at the heart of the piece, and in some respects that subverts the genre slightly, which makes this an interesting film. On the other hand, however, it makes the ending somewhat unsatisfying - both from a plot perspective, and with respect to being able to determine heroes and villains. It’s tough to truly root for these characters, because the film never really gives credence to the villains’ guilt other than through Leto’s creepy performance. It means that when the climax arrives, it leaves us asking whether Leto’s character was truly guilty, and whether the cops were really right. The film also leaves a number of plot threads unanswered. It all adds up to a movie that plays at genre, but in its quest to subvert expectations, winds up dissatisfying the viewer.
The Little Things fills its runtime with beautiful cinematography, some great performance work and a desire to subvert expectations, but all up it feels much like the justice achieved by these detectives - workable, but dissatisfying.