The Little Things, a neo-noir crime thriller written and directed by John Lee Hancock, has a labored and familiar plot but is well done.
One night, in October 1990, a young woman drives on a lonely highway in rural California and is stalked by a motorist. The motorist follows her and the woman is subsequently pursued through the desert. Luckily, she catches the attention of a passing truck driver and escapes.
A while later in Bakersfield, Kern County deputy sheriff Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel Washington) is summoned to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to collect evidence that pertains to a homicide case. Deacon, a former L.A. Sheriff’s detective who stepped down after suffering a heart attack and nervous breakdown while pursuing a killer, accompanies newly appointed lead detective Jimmy Baxter (Rami Maleck) to the scene of a new murder. Deacon notices striking similarities between the M.O. of the fresh killing and the M.O. of the old serial murder case that he was unable to solve. Soon, additional murders happen and the hunt is on.
Slow, but done masterfully, The Little Things is a total throwback and feels like a reimaging of a standard-issue crime thriller from the ‘90s. This makes sense when you delve into the history of the film. The first draft was written by Hancock in 1993 with Steven Spielberg intended to direct, but Spielberg passed because he thought the story was too dark. Clint Eastwood, Warren Beatty, and Danny DeVito were all separately attached to direct before Hancock opted to write his screenplay.
I’ve seen it compared to Seven, a neo-noir crime thriller released in 1995, and would have to agree. The similarities about the plot, characters, and themes are striking, but Seven is much more memorable — it had impressive gore effects and an incredibly haunting finale.
If nothing else, The Little Things has a stellar cast. Rami Malek gave a heart-wrenching performance. Jared Leto, in his role as suspected killer Albert Sparma, was raw and outstanding. Washington, however, seriously phoned it in here. He seems incredibly bored throughout and doesn’t do anything except the bare minimum with the part. The Little Things is available in theaters and also on HBO Max through February 28th.
I give The Little Things three and a half out of five stars.