Denzel Washington playing a weary cop in a 90s-00s thriller just feels like a warm hug, huh?
The Little Things dropped in select theatres alongside it’s HBO Max release early this morning, another combination we’re getting used to despite the unpleasant situation. Its director, John Lee Hancock, is a journeyman that has begun delving into the territory of the auteur and is clearly taking inspiration from the detective paperbacks of his youth. Add a dash of David Fincher’s style (but not near as much as people are claiming…it’s not fucking Se7en) and the charming confidence of Denzel and that, dear sweetlings, is where the stew begins to simmer.
The film opens on Sheriff Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel Washington), a pudgy dude that clearly has some sort of pulpy past and is working in Kern County. He’s sent to L.A. to find a pair of blood-stained boots to nail some bastard, but when he stumbles into the path of Detective Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek), the two begin working on catching a serial killer that is plaguing both of their personal and professional lives.
My main issue is that the film is only mildly intriguing until Jared Leto enters. That haunts me.
Setting this story in the 90s is absolutely wonderful in some ways. There are no cell phones, which tend to ruin things like this. The setting feels precisely like Denzel Washington’s comfort zone, with his haunted and smarmy tough-boy personas. There’s even a beautiful Captain-of-the-force character that is threatening Detective Baxter’s job over how far they push the investigation. Hell, even the vehicles tickle my ickle nostalgia button. It’s a weirdly charming display that sadly…doesn’t go anywhere for about an hour.
I hate that this winds up sort of working. It doesn’t earn it, and it certainly doesn’t pay off, but there’s this 45 minute period that just hits on every level and I absolutely love it. Jared Leto is a disgusting person that has both an Oscar and the honor of being the only actor to think sending used condoms to his co-stars is method acting. The issue is that he plays a weirdo that fetishises murder to perfection. His ability to bounce off of Washington and Malek whether or not each is on-camera with him. It’s a stunning performance and just…goddamnit, it’s great. Most viewers will find that their mileage varies when it comes to Leto’s character as he’s once again trying to show us just how WEIRD and TWISTED he can be (though Washington has assured us that none of his dead rats and used condoms were around for the filming) and it can be annoying. He’s reigned it in and on a scale from “Blonde Guy in Fight Club” to “That Bad Joker from Suicide Squad” he’s solidly in the middle. It’s where he belongs and I’m glad to see him there.
The performances completely save the film from being merely a missed opportunity, and it makes the film a fun watch. Denzel, like Tom Hanks, feels comfortable and confident. Unlike Hanks, who rocks some solid dad-energy, we’re instead dealing with America’s cool uncle that’s probably into some messed up shit when you aren’t around. Rami Malek, in his first big onscreen appearance since Bohemian Rhapsody and in a role that was probably meant to ride the popularity of the endlessly pushed back No Time to Die, feels like a boy in a big coat trying to puff out his chest and show everyone just how mature he is. The dynamic is tired and familiar, but in the hands of these very talented performers it manages to remain fun and unique enough from Se7en (which this film is openly paying homage to).
My main issue is the ending and the reveals that do and don’t happen. Nothing comes to fruition, leaving the film a solid session of edging that doesn’t ever finish up in a satisfying way. For all of its aspirations to gory glory, the film can’t run on without a plot to sustain the two hour runtime. Hancock’s ambition is apparent in his final product, but I can’t help but wonder if his finale was the only thing he came up with and even that feels anemic. A shame that a movie crying out to end with a bang does so with a whimper, but Hancock’s idea feels less contemplative than he seems to have thought it would.
The Little Things is now streaming on HBO Max.