Truth and Movies

The Little Things

Review by Erik Nielsen @_noteriknielsen

Directed by

John Lee Hancock

Starring

Denzel Washington Jared Leto Rami Malek

Anticipation.

When is Denzel ever not worth a watch?

Enjoyment.

We miss mid-budget movies like this.

In Retrospect.

Familiar and inessential, but still, they really don’t make them like this anymore.

Denzel Washington and Rami Malek play LA cops battling their demons while trying to catch a killer.

This slow-burn serial killer thriller was originally written by director John Lee Hancock in 1990 – the same year the film takes place – and it plays like the throwback it is. Mid-budget crime movies of this ilk were fashionable 20 or 30 years ago, but now, even at a time when streaming platforms are saturated with true crime stories, The Little Things feels almost novel.

Denzel Washington plays Joe “Deke” Deacon, a former detective who relegates himself to a quieter patrol job, roaming the highways of sun-kissed Kern County, California, aiding diner owners in vandalism cases. Deacon immediately comes off as someone reserved, guarded and calculated, with a strong intuition that all great detectives have.

When bodies begin to pile up, Deacon makes a return to his old headquarters to find Rami Malek’s lead detective Jim Baxter heading up the case. Deacon is immediately suspicious of Baxter’s ability to go after the killer, while Baxter is extremely reluctant to give him the time of day. The generational gap and tension between them is confirmed by Deacon’s former partner, played by Chris Bauer, who tells him, “These young kids don’t have a soul anymore, no one wants to come have a beer with me.”

Meanwhile, Deacon’s former boss (Terry Kinney) warns him about getting involved as the film hints at our protagonist’s dark past on the force. The two former colleagues know what haunts Deacon but they also know he’s probably the only one who can solve the case.

It’s only when Jared Leto enters the fray that the film finally finds its rhythm. As suspected killer Albert Sparma, Leto injects some much-needed lightness into proceedings, all greasy hair and twisted campiness. He confesses his love for true crime shows and calls Baxter and Deacon “butt buddies”, asking if they want to grab a drink. The added tension he creates between them is the film’s strongest attribute; previously at odds, they are forced to lean on and learn from one another.

Washington and Malek share a fascinating dynamic in the latter half of the film. Both play detectives who bring their work home, but for different reasons. Deacon, it is revealed later on, has two daughters and an ex-wife, neither of whom we see. He sits alone in his apartment and surrounds himself with pictures of the victims of the cases he couldn’t solve, and sees their ghosts throughout the film.

At one point Baxter screams at him, “This isn’t okay, you need help!” Deacon works for himself and is not necessarily guided by a moral code or sense of duty to the job. Baxter on the other hand is still a family man. He does the job it because it’s the right thing to do, and still has people he wishes to protect. They both want justice – Baxter for the good of others and Deacon for himself.

This slow and patient character-driven approach by Hancock is refreshing. The film is not so much about the motives of the killer as it is about the lives of two very different men, and we learn a great deal about them and where they come from. By the end, the evidence gathering feels moot. Stakeouts and sly attempts by Baxter and Deacon to set up Scampa fail. The dark inevitability that he will get away with murder starts to become evident and looms large over both detectives, driving the film to its grim endpoint.

Published 2 Feb 2021

Tags: Denzel Washington Jared Leto John Lee Hancock Rami Malek The Little Things

Anticipation.

When is Denzel ever not worth a watch?

Enjoyment.

We miss mid-budget movies like this.

In Retrospect.

Familiar and inessential, but still, they really don’t make them like this anymore.

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