Review: 'The Little Things' (2021) Dir. John Lee Hancock
One of the first big 2021 releases launched in both theatres and the HBO Max / Warner Bros VOD streaming services, this thriller unites strong leads for a gritty murder mystery...
In late 1990, Los Angeles deputy sheriff Joe "Deke" Deacon (Washington) is tasked to the Sheriff's Department to collect evidence pertaining to a murder case. Whilst there, he is slowly drawn into another investigation.
LASD Detective Jim Baxter (Malek) is on the hunt for a serial killer who is slowly stacking up the body count of vulnerable young women in the area. Deacon is drawn in due to similarities on a case he didn't previously solve.
Baxter decides to let Deacon help him in the investigation, and both men open up the eyes of the other as they seek out top suspect Albert Sparma (Leto) and must find the little things that could help crack the case...
While not making shockwaves in cinemas due to the ongoing 2021 COVID-19 pandemic following a shaky 2020, this dark thriller from director John Lee Hancock is enough to draw audiences into the season of more mature thrillers and gritty drama coming out of the festive period. This is all about the acting talent on show to make for an intense viewing. The story itself, a run-of-the-mill serial killer / murder mystery is a very bleak affair set mostly around the dark suburbs of Los Angeles making for very atmospheric viewing.
In fact, it's pretty much everything else but the story that really works for this style of film. The narrative is slow over the 2hr run-time, and you probably see where things are going into the second half, with similar threads and arcs from similar films of the genre that have come before. Events surrounding the murder investigation pick up, then slow down, then pick up, then slow down and you never feel it picks up pace until the final act.
For the might of our two leads, this doesn't give them enough to really shine and you feel cheated as a viewer that this could have been something more special.
Denzel Washington and Rami Malek make a good pair. Washington's Deacon himself is on form as what you would expect in the guise of a cop who has seen it all, from big scale crime to small-town incidents and now is battling demons to make sure he is the best he can be when needed. There is a past to his character, and slowly you get to see what he is trying to do during the course of the film, but it feels a little too reflective and held-back from what Washington could usually deliver. He's watchable as ever with his unmistakable cool demeanour even in the face of danger. The initial contrast with Malek's younger, by-the-book Detective Baxter is entertaining to watch without being comical or "buddy cop" stereotypical.
Fresh from the eyes of the world as Freddie Mercury in 2018s Bohemian Rhapsody (but still not yet as Safin in what should have been 2020s No Time to Die), Rami Malek reminds us of his intense and unique acting style away from the Hollywood blockbuster. He is intense both physically and verbally, at times more engrossing that Washington, but only due to the fact we see a side of Malek that hasn't been seen for a long time in acting roles. He simmers with an almost predatory look to his eyes and distinct jawline, and you never know what line of the law he may drift on to get his target. It's this sort of character that the film revolves around; the little things that make up the bigger picture.
Going up against the equally intense and unpredictable Jared Leto, both he and Malek share some great scenes together, playing off each other's darker persona; one wants to win, one wants to play. Washington almost acts as an overall mentor to Malek and has to be the voice of reason when Leto's character certainly plays the pair on a cat-and-mouse hunt for answers before more bodies are found. The more Leto drip feeds us with detail, the more you find yourself wanting to know more.
A chilling score by Thomas Newman accompanies the slick and urban cinematography by John Schwartzman, making this reminiscent in look and style to 2014s Nightcrawler. The dark nights of LA make for a chilling, twisted playground for Leto to take Malek and Washington out in, with the use of harsh lights to illuminate faces, places and connote the mood of the era. It's just a shame that the style is far more than the substance, and when things do start to fall into interesting and get juicy, it soon comes to an end.
Setting the tone perfectly for the genre, and with intense performances from our three leads, it's just a shame the story doesn't get going to do them all justice.
'The Little Things' is a Gran Via Productions production