The Little Things Movie Review: Somewhat predictable, somewhat intriguing
Partly predictable and partly intriguing, The Little Things hinges on the acting abilities of Washington and Leto
The Little Things takes enough inspiration from predecessors in the genre, the most notable of which are perhaps Seven and Mind Hunter. A controversial senior cop unable to get over an old and complicated case from his past; an up-and-coming police detective with a squeaky-clean image, who is a darling of his department; an organised and confident killer one step ahead of law enforcement in every respect. Sounds a bit formulaic, doesn’t it? Well, that it is. However, the film, with its pacing and intrigue, ensures it remains rather watchable.
The plot may veer towards predictability, but it is in the characters we must invest to get our money’s worth. For all intents and purposes, the chance meeting of Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek) and Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) is the merging of light and dark. The former is entrusted with a multiple murder case with no leads. The bizarre way in which the young women have been killed forms a pattern. When Joe Deacon steps back in to his former police department, the case catches his eye. His incisive observations and obsessive nature may make for good policing, not necessarily good relations. He is persona non grata to his superiors, though his contemporaries miss his presence. While Jimmy is advised not to take Joe’s assistance, he is still drawn to the man’s darkness and uncanny ability to see what others fail to. The lead characters make a classic case for opposites attracting.
Director – John Lee Hancock
Cast – Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto, Chris Bauer, Natalie Morales, Terry Kinney
Through the film, and well into the hunt for viable suspects, Jimmy keeps digging away at Joe’s complex past. The former can’t quite figure out why his unlikely partner is so intent on nabbing an elusive killer he will get no credit for. Like Jimmy’s captain (and Joe’s former boss) says, “What kind of a guy takes leave from his department to work on a case that isn’t even his?” Joe spouts a cliché, explaining his rationale behind solving difficult murders. “It’s all in the little things, Jimmy. Pay attention to them. Sooner or later, it’s those little things that get you caught.”
The most interesting aspect of the narrative is the deliberate attempt on the part of the killer to taunt those chasing him down; a notorious trait among American serial murderers of the 20th century. The Little Things is a film that specialises in slow burn. The first half sets things up nicely with the introduction of the characters and the patterned murders taking place at regular intervals. Very little is seen from the serial killer’s perspective, furthering the overall intrigue of the story.
Suspects with prior criminal records are interviewed (Joe perpetually providing pointers to Jimmy via phone) but no one fits the bill. Evidence and motivation for the crimes are a far cry. Once the viewer is shown a credible suspect, the events get even more bizarre. The man fits the archetypal profile – intelligent, confident, manipulative. And to add to all that, he shows great awareness of the crimes (a self-proclaimed true crime buff, apparently). This revelling in engaging with and taunting the police give you another a cause to believe that he is their man. But an arrest requires evidence. And they have none. Instinct, a hunch, and knowing in your gut don’t quite cut it.
Despite its somewhat predictable story arc, the acting is what makes the film. Joe’s darkness and need for redemption are explored to the fullest extent by Denzel Washington, while Jared Leto gives you the absolute creeps with his deadpan portrayal of Albert Sparma. Rami Malek’s character finds himself somewhere in between all of this but isn’t quite as effective as the other two.
There are some moments in The Little Things that aren’t realistic enough to be taken seriously. Like, for instance, how does Joe manage to stay away from his current police department for so much time (we know he’s on leave, but that can’t go on endlessly)? And, how come the LAPD top brass (those clearly opposed to Joe’s involvement) doesn’t put an end to his constant interference? While the film borrows from its more famous genre contemporaries, it does pique interest. Its open-ended nature will have you wondering about the identity of the killer long after curtain call.