I think we might need to take a little bit of a break from crime dramas. They haven’t been my favorite genre for a while already, based purely on over saturations. Obviously there are exceptions to every rule and they can still be done well. For every The Good Liar, we have Good Time, or for each The Kitchen there’s a Widows. And then of course there’s the CSIs, NCISs, SVUs, and whatever other combination of letters Hollywood is throwing at us these days.
Basically, unless there’s an auteur behind the camera a la David Fincher or Denis Villeneuve, you’re probably going to have a hard time squeezing any real semblance of quality from this genre. Unfortunately, an auteur John Lee Hancock, director of The Little Things, is not.
I should’ve known going in that the director of The Blind Side, The Highwaymen, and The Founder wasn’t the right guy to helm a gritty movie about two detectives trying to track down a serial killer. Hancock’s movies don’t tend to veer towards the darker side of things and when they do, they’re watered down. The Founder is almost a beat-for-beat sanitized version of The Social Network, for instance.
With The Little Things, it feels like Hancock is again trying to lift inspiration from Fincher because this movie feels like a (watered down) mix of Se7en and Zodiac. Denzel Washington plays Deke, a deputy sheriff from northern California sent to Los Angeles to help with the case of a serial killer who is killing twenty-something girls for who-knows-what reason. He partners with Jim (Rami Malek) to try to track down the perpetrator.
Of course, Deke has a troubled past (we don’t find out exactly what troubles him until the very end) and Jim wants to catch the murderer because it’s the right thing to do. He’s the new hot shot detective in the precinct and he has something to prove.
Washington, even if he has been overshadowed by his hot on the scene son in recent years, is excellent as ever. But watching him perform a script of this caliber only makes me yearn for the early 2000s when his crime dramas were Training Day and Inside Man. At least with those, he had something to work with instead of the tired archetype that he does his best to bring to life here.
Malek, on the other hand, is completely miscast. The marketing for this movie hinged on having three Oscar winners including Washington, Malek, and Jared Leto (who I’ll get to in a minute), and it seems like name recognition is the only reason Malek was allowed to join this party. He isn’t a bad actor, it’s just that the role wasn’t right for him.
Leto plays the top suspect in this string of murders and this is the least makeup I’ve seen on him in at least 10 years. If you know anything about Jared Leto the celebrity, it wouldn’t surprise you if he drew on actual firsthand experience to bring this character to life. And he does a good job with what he’s given, but he doesn’t appear until about an hour into the movie and by that point, everyone’s motivations, including his, are muddled at best.
That is where the main problem lies with this movie – its script is just too unfocused. The movie wants to say something about saving others from following a dark path with a religious undertone, but it doesn’t take the time to flesh it out or let the characters or theme breathe. There’s definitely something there, but it’s all under the surface and never legitimately explored.
To top it off, there is a mutual decision made by two characters with about 30 minutes left in the movie that makes no sense for either of them. I tend to try to separate real world logic from character decisions in fiction, but there is absolutely no reason for the final act to go down the way it did. Instead, it just creates a dud of a climax after a slog of a movie to get there in the first place.
I wanted to like this movie. I really did. But ultimately, The Little Things ends up being a below average disappointment which equals less than the sum of its parts.