Based on its excellent trailers, I thought THE LITTLE THINGS was going to be a straightforward “cops hunt for a serial killer” thriller. It is that, but it’s also a whole lot less and quite a bit more.
Denzel Washington is former LA detective and current small town deputy Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon. He’s reserved, quiet and appears content in his lesser role. When a routine evidence request lands him back in Los Angeles, he visits his former LA police department and meets many old colleagues. Some are touched to see him again; some seem pretty pissed off about it. There are no middle-of-the-road emotions.
Deke sees the new, young and brash Detective that took his lead role, Jim Baxter. Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody, No Time To Die) gives Jim so many layers that you’re never quite sure how to take him.
Jim and Deke’s former partner Sal (the reliably good Chris Bauer from “True Blood”) pull Deke into the unsolved case he was working on when he left.
A serial killer is on a rampage, leaving a trail of dead girls in his wake. Nude stabbed and posed, the women haunt Deke in more ways than one.
Deke resists being any part of it but is quickly lured back by the victims lost on his watch and begins to observe Jim and give him pointers.
The men begin to form a bond, tentatively at first.
When the suspect list overlaps with Albert Sparma, things take a turn. Sparma is beyond scary, seems to know way too much about the murders and fits every profiler’s dream list as a suspect. Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club and my favorite Joker when he stole “Suicide Squad”) is fantastic as Sparma. He immerses himself in the role, once again almost unrecognizable beneath dark eyes, filthy hair and a unique gait. He radiates menace.
Writer/Director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Highwaymen) isn’t interested in taking you down the “Dateline” episode path. The cops and the suspects are much more flawed than expected. Washington loads Deke with so much unspoken pain and regret that you can actually feel his sadness, especially during a brief, front yard encounter with his ex-wife and during a flashback near the conclusion that further informs all you think you know.
The flashbacks play more like brief moments inside Deke’s tortured soul.
Watching actors on the level of Washington, Malek and Leto spar is pure moviegoing pleasure. The film reminded me of “Se7en” without reaching the dark depths or the stylistic highs of Fincher.
But like Fincher’s dark crime noir, these three men aren’t predictable.
As Denzel’s Deke says more than once, “It’s the little things that get you caught”.
Our trio of leads load their performances with enough little nuances to elevate this far beyond crime drama into something much more challenging.
Those seeking a traditional crime thriller may leave disappointed. Anyone seeking more is likely to find unexpected pleasures.
I’m still thinking about it a day later, about what I know and don’t know about these three men and the murders.
There are no easy answers, but plenty of great acting and an enjoyably twisted path to a solid B.