Review: Buzzy cast elevate decent cop procedural 'The Little Things'
Courtesy of Warner Bros.
“It’s the little things that get you caught” we’re told early in John Lee Hancock’s aptly titled “The Little Things” which stars Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Rami Malek as two detectives investigating a string of murders in a Noir LA style setting circa 1990. There’s no cell phones, I-Pads or even Facebook to help crack the case, which is an interesting choice Hancock makes, yearning back to the ole’ days of cop procedurals where characters’ had beepers and used pay phones whenever they received a huge tip.
The type of David Fincher meets “The Silence of the Lambs” knockoff that, ironically, fits right at home in the pathos of HBO’s expansive library, “The Little Things” is an engaging crime drama rooted in nostalgia. A dying breed that can only be revived whenever someone like Washington has an itch to scratch (or needs to cash an easy paycheck). He plays these roles in his sleep, whether it's “Training Day” or “The Bone Collector,” seldom does the actor make bad movies and I’d argue “The Little Things” keeps his track record moving. The less we say about “Equalizer 2” the better.
But it’s not just Washington who anchors the film as Joe “Drake” Deacon, a burnt out Kern County deputy sheriff seeking redemption, though Rami Malek’s hot-shot homicide detective Jim Baxter and Jared Leto’s greasy Albert Sparma - the main suspect in the case - give audiences plenty to chew on, leading to a polarizing ending that leaves more questions than answers once the credits roll.
As Deacon and Baxter, Washington and Malek find common ground in their hunt for a serial killer with a young, defenseless woman appetite. There’s reasons Deacon left this field decades ago, but the recent onslaught of deaths and their strange correlations to a previous cold case ropes him back in, eventually paving the way for Leto’s soft and menacing Sparma to emerge as the primary suspect.
Between “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Suicide Squad,” Leto isn’t afraid to dig deep into a characters’ slimy appeal as something is certainly off about Sparma, a greaseball laundromat employee who never showers and delivers cheeseburgers to hookers on the highway (and enjoys tacos) but Deacon and Baxter struggle to pin him because he’s squeaky clean at hiding evidence. The obvious comparison to make here is Kevin Spacey’s wicked turn in “Se7en,” though Leto finds enough sadistic malice to differentiate itself from that performance.
Hancock, who for every “The Blind Side” makes “The Alamo,” overcomes nonsensical elements of his twisted screenplay in part because Thomas Newman’s fantastic score is blasting at the right moments, and John Schwartzman’s glistening cinematography of the faded Pasadena streets are intoxicating. Despite Washington and Malek essentially coasting through the film's cheesier elements (one central interrogation sequence is borderline laughable), “The Little Things” doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a film destined for late night cable where it’s discovered at 11pm on a Friday and you have nothing better to do. Sometimes that’s where the best movies are found. You know, the little things.
THE LITTLE THINGS opens in theaters and streams on HBO MAX Friday, January 29th.