“Who says that bad guys don’t return to the scene of the crime?”
Tacit and thrilling. Tactical and a bit too taut. The Little Things is a modestly enjoyable murder mystery until all of the small and muddled elements oddly get in the the way of the plodding plot, hindering what’s revealed to be a real lack of character development. The film is too long but I was never bored by the multiple chess matches being played throughout, especially given the some of the talent involved, and the direction is engaging enough to take you for a walk or a whirl for two hours. But the cold and aseptic picture always feels devoid of meaning, and quite honestly couldn’t have been released at a worse time. The Little Things is watchable, unmemorable, and too quietly apathetic for its own good.
Deputy Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) looks like a real life version of McGruff the Crime Dog; always donned in the uniform, his brows furrowed by time and trauma, still so perpetually inquisitive. The badge is emblazoned on his being. He’s older and wiser, always on the edge of his seat and his upturned nose on the scent. Joe’s steeped and secretive history is the best part of this mostly regurgitated story, and his personal mystery makes the film more engrossing when so many of the other pieces are uninvolving. As is the the case with Detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), many years Deacon’s minor but technically his superior. His character lacks depth and purpose, and Malek’s typically automated delivery lends no favors or flavor. There’s no chemistry to forcibly keep these separate elements together.
The main shift in tonal dynamics occurs when the seedy looking Albert Sparma (Jared Leto, acting so hard it sometimes hurts), finally enters the picture. With the co-leads on the hunt for a serial killer, all roads point to Albert, a low-life whose apartment contains the books “Helter Skelter” and – solely given the movie at hand – the incredibly on the nose reference to the 70’s biography “Flic Story: The Implacable Duel Between a Merciless Killer and a Different Kind of Policeman” by Roger Borniche, himself a writer and French detective. It shows the dated inspirations for the film and it elucidates how the movie fits into its 1990’s setting despite whilst not modernizing to 21st century ideologies. Everything about the film is dated, and while it’s unfair to retroactively judge many movies given the standards of the times, The Little Things is oddly out of touch with the mindsets and culture of the modern era. This antiquated depiction of policing is completely tone deaf to the harsh yet fair criticisms of today’s ethics and tactics.
The direction here from John Lee Hancock is fluid even if the writing belongs in the padlocked storage space of an antique shop, which makes sense since the script originated some 28 years ago. The Little Things has been too long in the making, and at the end of the day feels as fresh as a stale loaf of sourdough left on the counter for weeks on end. There’s nothing new or interesting or really even tasteful here to chew on, especially given the aimless third act, and the vague ending is as eventful as watching characters try to put a square peg in a round hole. Nothing adds up or matches suits. The Little Things has a long line, a sharp hook, but no sinker or closure. There are biblical images throughout, which makes it all the more odd that the film never considers the proverbial wisdom, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Prepare to go home empty handed.
“It’s like fishing.”
Rating: 2.5 out of 5