John Lee Hancock takes full control of his latest film as both writer and director to create a crime drama wrapped in a suspense thriller that is an unexciting project from beginning to end. The Little Things is a troubled film that places itself in a specific genre where some fantastic stories have been told, unfortunately, The Little Things has hardly anything dynamic to show or tell. Starring Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto, everyone does a fine job in the role they are given, but ultimately, no one stands out amongst the cast to deliver a jaw-dropping performance. With a narrative penned by Hancock himself, the film fails to deliver anything that we as audiences have not already seen before. However, Hancock’s approach behind the camera alongside Thomas Newman’s thrilling original score with the aid of the entire sound department help bring a real atmosphere to the film that almost instantly bolsters your engagement as a viewer. Even still, failing to “wow” or excite at any moment, The Little Things stands as a film stuck in the crossroads where it is not outright awful, but also not exceptionally great; with no low marks and no high marks, it sits in a state of limbo as just another film that will be forgotten to time.
The Little Things tells the story of a rampant serial killer who remains at large in Los Angeles during 1990. Sheriff Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) of the Kern County police department is called down by his superiors to recover evidence pertaining to the recent murder of a young woman. Being sent down, Joe reunites with some of his old friends who are still working at the department. Along the way, he joins lead detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) who is currently investigating a new murder that has just sprung up. However, the old case was never settled and in the midst of a new one, the likelihood of discovering a suspect dwindles by the second. But, becoming consumed with the case, Joe begins to find similarities between the current day murders that have transpired and the old murders he investigated some time ago. With the seed of a potential lead, Joe and Jim go forth digging deeper into their investigation until they narrow down their search to Albert Sparma (Jared Leto). With Albert as the primary suspect, Joe and Jim continue to dig deeper into his mysterious life trying to find any tether to link him to the murders. All the while, questions of Joe’s past get put forth as everyone begins to question and wonder just why he is so interested in cracking the case.
Hancock developed and wrote the entire story found within The Little Things, and somehow with all of that control, nothing about it feels original or fresh. For starters, we must first investigate the characters found within this film. Having three academy award winners signed on for a project is no small feat, so naturally, you would aspire to utilize them in the best ways possible. Sadly, neither Washington, Malek, or Leto are fully applied. This stems not from their performances as everyone does an adequate job portraying their characters; no, this is a problem directly tied to the material they must deliver. Hardly any development is dolled out to any of their characters with no growth, no change, and no reflection. The central themes of the narrative lend themselves perfectly to this kind of traumatic development but none of it ever happens. Having character problems also leads to a severance of any emotional resonance that was supposed to be had. Throughout the entirety of the film not once did I truly care for what was to come down the line towards our central characters because the film gave me no reason to. Hancock throws in small details like both Joe and Jim having children, but when it is never visualized to the audience how a case like this may hit home for them, how can we be expected to care. At times it feels as though that the film never wanted your vested interest because, for a suspense thriller, it relies on many of the same tired tropes we have seen before while offering nothing new to counteract any of it. To make matters worse, The Little Things has a runtime of roughly a little over two hours, so as a result of its cookie-cutter storyline, you feel every last second of its 127-minute duration. The film goes through its motions getting from point A to point B slowly building to a reveal of some kind. Unfortunately, just when the threads of the plot are beginning to converge and the story is coming to a head, it sluggishly begins deflating itself ultimately wasting any hidden potential the film could have had.
Regretfully, I surprisingly have nothing left to say about this film. Given what The Little Things could have offered, it is a tremendous let down to witness the final result. Hancock taking complete control over the project from start to finish could have been a curse in disguise simply because he does nothing engaging to pull you in off or on the camera. The job of captivating the audience is left to Newman and the sound department as eerie moments are drastically more immersive due to their contributions in building a tense and unsettling atmosphere. Sadly, Hancock’s writing does not elicit that same response. Barring a few moments of character banter between the cast, none of it feels all that enticing. Naturally, the issue of writing also extends to the titular characters of this piece. Assembling an all-star cast of Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto, you would expect the bar for this film to be extremely high; sadly it is not. Each actor embodies the troubled mind of the person they play but with no internal struggles or explorations of the damaged spirit, it feels vacuous. The Little Things exists as a film that is perfectly tolerable which in this day and age is not the space you want to occupy considering all of the available options. Because it is not offensively bad or remarkably good, it will easily be forgotten until you check back on everything you saw this year and after quickly passing the title and briefly remembering it, you will promptly forget about it seconds later.