Review: ‘The Little Things’ fails to satisfy despite Oscar-bait expectations

By Juan Godinez, Feb. 9, 2021

A film like “The Little Things” should sweep audiences off their feet. Neo-noir crime thrillers and murder mysteries have long filled our screens and tapped into our inner-detective minds — especially since the release of “The Silence of the Lambs,” a film which showed that a murder-mystery could be a box office hit as well as a critically acclaimed masterpiece.

The groundwork was laid for “The Little Things” to follow in those footsteps, with a star-studded cast and intriguing premise, but it fails to deliver a satisfying end to what could have been an iconic film.

American filmmaker John Lee Hancock, best known for his films “The Blindside” and “Saving Mr. Banks,” returns here to write and direct “The Little Things.” Watching the film, it’s clear the direction Hancock wanted to take the story, but you can’t stop yourself from feeling cheated out of a much better movie-watching experience. Ironically, it could be said that the little things are what holds this movie back.

The film stars Denzel Washington as Joe Deacon, a former LAPD officer with a mysterious past now living in Bakersfield, tackling large-scale murder cases. The film’s story kicks off in 1990 when Deacon gets thrown back into the life that nearly destroyed him, returning to Los Angeles where he winds up assisting his hotshot replacement, Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), with a serial killer case terrorizing the city.

Without wasting time, the two detectives stumble upon a probable suspect named Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), which leads to a cat-and-mouse chase lasting the duration of the film that takes the characters down a path of no return in trying to solve a case that challenges their sanity and morality.

Although the film’s first half rightfully earns the audience’s attention through its story-building, it’s a continuous letdown as the plot further unravels. Part of the reason the film shoots itself in the foot is because it shows too many of its cards too quickly. For instance, the movie could have benefitted from casting a smaller name than Jared Leto in his role because it immediately makes the audience suspicious of his character without letting the film’s mystery play out.

It’s hard to be left disappointed by the performances from the cast, as many of the actors transformed into their roles. Washington delivers another performance as an officer visibly distraught and haunted by his past. Leto, despite a lacking in mystery, steals the show with his portrayal of LA’s creepiest man and keeps the audience guessing about his motives throughout each of his scenes.

Additionally, the movie’s score and cinematography are well-done too. The score was fantastically dark and ominous, and the cinematography helped set the stage of a ’90s LA overflowing with crime.

While there are plenty of smaller nuanced elements within the movie to appreciate, the problem with the movie is that it tries too hard to divert our expectations and by doing so, the story takes a wrong turn and falls off a cliff in the third act.

The plot leaves several loose-ends unresolved and its twists fail to land the way they were intended. Instead of being surprised during the closing minutes, the audience may find itself feeling cheated out of an exciting finish they had waited two hours for.

“The Little Things” is a much different movie from what was advertised, a letdown considering its potential. It’s easy to be left frustrated by what was presented, but perhaps some can appreciate it for what it is.

Nonetheless, it is worth a watch regardless of its flaws as it showcases another strong performance from Washington that any fan of his can enjoy. The film is currently out in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

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