Photo | Warner Bros
“The Little Things” is a fairly formulaic police thriller in which a serial killer, inevitably, toys with the cops, rogue tactics are employed, and pictures of victims are tacked onto the wall of a seedy motel room. But almost all the shortcomings of the film are balanced out by Denzel Washington’s performance. He is simply fun and exciting to watch, even when he’s doing some fairly cheesy things, like being haunted by victims or talking to dead bodies in the morgue.
While Washington makes the whole movie better, he also shows up the other fellows in the ensemble, Rami Malek as a police detective and Jared Leto as a greasy suspect. Compared to Washington, these two are just doing stereotypical mannerisms and funny voices, especially Leto, who seems to have chosen Thurston Howell III from “Gilligan’s Island” as the voice inspiration for his character.
The most interesting thing Leto has done in a while is when he emerged a week into the global pandemic lockdown last year blissfully unaware of the situation due to some cockamamie silent retreat he was on. His infamous “method actor” preparations for his ludicrous Joker role in the horrendous “Suicide Squad” gave us the worst performance in a movie full of bad ones. Maybe acting like a jerk to play a jerk means he simply is a jerk. And actually, that’s kind of the question of “The Little Things” as well. We must decide whether his character is an annoying serial killer or just an annoying man. (On the last part, there is no question.)
Malek plays a detective with no leads in a series of grizzly stabbings, and when Washington wanders into the detective’s L.A. precinct to pick up some unrelated evidence, everyone steers clear of him. Washington’s reputation precedes him, and it isn’t good. A decade earlier, he was so caught up in working a murder case he had a heart attack and got a divorce. He becomes convinced Malek’s case might be intertwined in that fateful, unsolved case that still haunts him.
This is not my personal favorite genre of film, but it is certainly a decent example of it if you like this kind of thing. The script was apparently written in the 1990s, is set in the 1990s and recalls those twisty films, which often starred Washington, like “The Bone Collector.” For a more recent touchstone, see “True Detective.” For me, these all feature too many naked dead ladies, and that certainly includes “The Little Things.” Even if it is in service of a story about people trying to solve crimes, the camera still lingers lasciviously over bare breasts.
At any rate, this film ends up being about the detectives’ characters more than about the crimes themselves, and about how they can live with the stress and guilt and responsibility of their jobs. The sphinx-like Malek does a lot with those big eyes of his as the personal stakes get higher, and I came to appreciate the rapport between the elder and younger actors. There are many critical complaints this film is cliched, but I thought their relationship went into different territory. They have a believable and interesting friendship that forms the basis of the story.
There are life lessons to be learned here — Don’t jog, don’t answer a ringing payphone and don’t star alongside Denzel Washington unless you enjoy being used as a human mop on the floor. On the other hand, he makes what could have been a forgettable crime flick a watchable crime flick, because he knows it takes more than a freaky voice to create a character. Suspenseful and intense, “The Little Things” was satisfying but maybe not in the way you expect it to be. The ending is ambiguous but has its own rewards.
“The Little Things” is now playing at all multiplex theaters and Nexus Cinema Dining, and streaming on HBOMax.
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