This was as ordinary as could possibly be; perhaps not enough for it to be overtly “bad”, but enough to make you question how something like this was allowed to be made in the first place. An unoriginal and cliché heavy script and a flat out boring story reduces three talented lead actors to giving performances far below the standard they should be aspiring to and what we should be expecting of them.
John Lee Hancock’s “The Little Things” opens in 1990, grizzled deputy sheriff Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) has arrived in Bakersfield, Kern County to pick up some evidence relating to a recent murder. While in town however, Joe meets Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek), who has been recently appointed lead detective for the search for a serial killer at large in the community and accompanies him to a crime scene. Here he notices that the details of the murders seem to match those of an older case that he was involved in, and he decides to stay in town and help Jimmy find the killer. Local weirdo Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) becomes a person of interest almost immediately, with Joe and Jimmy scrambling to make sure that Sparma doesn’t strike again, or find out who the true killer is before its too late.
From the get-go, it’s pretty obvious that the film isn’t going to be bringing anything distinctly remarkable or groundbreaking in terms of genre or character or even story. And to be honest, I was initially fine with that! There’s nothing wrong with a film fully embracing a style, especially one as popular as the “neo-noir thriller”. But it still has to be done well. As soon as Deacon arrives in Bakersfield, there was a barrage of cheesy one-liners which were only really ever used in D grade, made for TV films in the first place – ranging from “Look what the cat dragged in”, to this fun little exchange:
Detective Sal Rizoli: The man, the myth, the legend.
Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon: Hey, Sal. You still hanging around?
Detective Sal Rizoli: No rest for the ugly. What are you doing here?
Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon: Don’t ask, don’t tell.
It’s difficult to take a gritty murder flick seriously while cringing at this sort of dialogue. And it’s consistent throughout; Joe and Jimmy sit in their car during a stake out and ponder existentially why they do this, Sparma spouts creepy philosophy and none of them seem very good at anything they’re supposed to be doing. The film’s title comes from Joe saying to Jimmy that solving a crime all comes down to keeping an eye out for the little things, the things that aren’t supposed to be there. When I heard that I thought that at least we’d get to see some cool detective work that maybe would venture beyond what any old sheriff was capable of. Nope! Instead Joe and Jimmy mess up potential leads, talk a about why they can’t sleep at night and waste a whole lot of time basically being incompetent. Oh and then Jimmy returns to a home that must have been decorated by Vogue Living to his supportive wife and cute little girls who literally only exist so he can be seen with his shirt rolled up at the end of the day telling them to sleep tight.
Honestly, all of this wouldn’t have annoyed me that much if the film at least had a half decent crime story to tell! I don’t know how the director managed to make a film about a serial killer seem so damn boring, but he’s absolutely managed it. The film’s ending is fine I suppose, but it’s nowhere near what it should have been and still leaves most of the film’s primary questions unanswered. Every actor in this comes out looking a little ridiculous, with the possible exception of Jared Leto, but even then, his character is so superficial and lacks any back story, motivations or complexity at all that he comes across more like an actor auditioning for the role rather than actually playing it.
“The Little Things” bears all the superficial tonal markings of the neo-noir thrillers of the nineties (“Se7en”, “Mystic River”, “Q&A”), without any of the substance which actually makes audiences return to them. What’s left instead is a hollow shell of a film with some seriously squandered opportunity.
By Jock Lehman