HBO Max pulls out the big guns in its Neo-noir thriller “The Little Things”. Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto are the Oscar-winning trio at the centre of things but their combined star power isn’t enough to save this slow-burn misfire.
Set in 1990, although you’d be forgiven for not knowing, “The Little Things” unites two cops at different ends of the spectrum on the trail of a gruesome serial killer. One of these is Deke (Denzel), a deputy sheriff in Kern County, tasked with collecting evidence from the LA Sheriff’s Department that pertains to a murder case back home.
Giving a cop role to Denzel is like petting a dog; it just feels natural. Deke is a humble but quietly confident police veteran; he’s seen some things, and upon his trip to LA we get the impression that for some reason he’s visibly uncomfortable being back. Everybody knows him and he commands a high level of respect yet there’s an atmosphere of uncertainty with each interaction.
Deke’s stay in LA is extended due to a technicality with the evidence he’s needing to collect. This brings us to our second cop – Jimmy (Rami Malek). Jimmy is a young hot-shot type, college educated, precise, and orthodox. Jimmy has been working a serial murder case for the last couple of months with no results, pressure is mounting to find a suspect and cracks are showing in his white-knight armour.
An additional murder takes place the same day Deke is in town so Jimmy naturally asks that he tag along, maybe Jimmy can learn a thing or two from this revered train-wreck. “The Little Things” begins to gain momentum here as the crime scene bears a striking resemblance to a murder scene Deke was investigating a few years ago, by this point we’ve seen a couple of flashbacks to it.
Deke has an instinctive trait to crime solving, not exactly magical but the kind of ‘gut’ instincts that make for a great detective. He provides Jimmy with an insight that sparks his curiosity, leading to the two working together.
Eventually, after some pacing issues with old-school detective work and Denzel half-smirks, we are introduced to Sparma (Jared Leto). Sparma looks like a malnourished Jesus, extremely creepy in his demeanour, and perversely obvious.
The second half of “The Little Things” wastes what could have been a scintillating cat and mouse thriller and instead delivers a lacklustre crawl to the finish line. There’s some great character building for Deke, exploring his demons and baiting us in to his story but lacks a satisfying conclusion. The same can be said for Jimmy’s character. Supporting characters fail to heighten the tension, never challenging the progress of the case or plot and instead, only serving as expositional tools for our main trio.
John Lee Hancock’s direction is typical of the genre; understated, moody and reminiscent of the era but with pretty much zero dramatic sequences unfolding onscreen, there’s nowhere for the director to exercise his finesse.
The film is getting a lot of critique for its likeness to another crime thriller, Seven. As I watched this movie and made notes to write this review, I too found myself making this comparison. If you’ve seen that classic crime thriller, you’ll no doubt do the same (especially now I’ve mentioned it) but the issue here, is the “The Little Things” is far, far away from the same quality.
Perhaps they share a likeness because the script was written 30 years ago but it’s probably more the fact that we have two powerful lead actors chasing a villain of equal measure. The most disappointing part of “The Little Things” is having such a fantastic ensemble being underused and underwritten. It should have been so much more.
Despite a trio of heavy-hitting lead actors, “The Little Things” amount to woefully less than the sum of its parts. Slow, frustrating and anticlimactic, this HBO Max original misses the mark on what could have been a seminal neo-noir crime thriller.