"The Little Things"
Release Date: Jan. 29, 2021 in theaters and on HBO Max
Running Time: 128 minutes
If director John Lee Hancock’s The Little Things feels like a precursor to 1995’s Seven, it has less to do with being set in 1990 but because Hancock’s script sat in a drawer for 28 years. Hancock wrote his serial killer thriller in 1993 for Steven Spielberg, and the script passed through the hands of Warren Beatty, Danny DeVito, Hancock’s A Perfect Worlddirector Clint Eastwood before Hancock finally received the opportunity to revive The Little Things as his follow-up to his 2019 Netflix crime drama The Highwaymen. Had Spielberg not found Hancock’s script too dark for his sensibilities, The Little Things likely would have been viewed then and today as not just an obvious influential on Sevenbut as a motivating factor for director David Fincher and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker pushing the subgenre beyond its limits. Comparisons between The Little Thing sand Seven remain inevitable if somewhat unfair, given Hancock’s predates the latter. Both grimly follow a byzantine investigation by two law enforcement officers—one a wise veteran, the other a driven young turk—into a murder spree conducted by a suspected serial killer. Both end up becoming a cat-and-mouse game between good and evil, with the primary suspect revealed to be a cunning social miscreant. The Little Things, though, is not interested in conspiracy theories or mystery boxes. Hancock offers a conventional, slow-burn police procedural—led by Denzel Washington and Rami Malek—that is somewhat complicated by an off-kilter Jared Leto’s late appearance. Washington, who passed on Brad Pitt’s role in Seven, assumes the Morgan Freeman role of elder to Malek. Washington is Joe “Deke” Deacon, a disgraced ex-L.A. detective now serving without distinction as a uniformed deputy county sheriff in the middle of nowhere. By chance, Deke returns to his old stomping ground on other business only to discover a possible connection between an attempted murder in his jurisdiction and a killing and a suspected kidnapping in L.A. He informally partners Malek’s ambitious and sharp-witted Det. Jim Baxter to solve the case. Their investigation leads them to Leto’s peculiar and unsettling crime buff Albert Sparma. Hancock’s interest does not lie with how Deak and Baxter arrive at Sparma. His concern is with the dynamic that exists between the three men and how it plays into the morality of the situation. Despite their age difference and years of experience, Deke and Baxter are more coequals than mentor and student. Deke relies on instinct, Baxter embraces modern (for 1990) forensic evidence technologies. This allows Hancock to thoroughly compare and contrast Deke and Baxter’s investigative techniques and how they relate to their handling of their wily quarry. Washington and Malek work as well together as Deke and Baxter do in their effort to catch a killer. Malek’s intense energy balances out Washington’s old-pro measured approach. Which, of course, informs their joint and separate interactions with Leto. While Leto remains calm and calculated throughout The Little Things, he brings to Sparma a creepy eccentricity that is designed to convince us at the all times that Sparma is both killer and red herring. Leto takes great delight in Sparma’s ability to get under Deke’s skin and to easily manipulate Baxter. He has always seems to have the upper-hand in his dealings with Washington and Malek. “It’s the little things that are important, Jimmy,” Deke tells Baxter. “It’s the little things that get you caught.” Hancock seizes upon this in a way that requires us to dissect every available clue or word uttered by Sparma with more meaning than Hancock possibly intended. Whether this results in a satisfactory resolution depends on how you assess and accept all that is presented to you by Hancock.
Aired: Jan. 28, 2021