John Lee Hancock writes and directs The Little Things, a crime thriller about Deputy Sheriff Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington), who teams up with Sergeant Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) to track down a serial killer. This is the latest film to premiere in theaters and HBO Max on the same day, and if you had to choose where to watch it, the answer would, unfortunately, be neither.
For a film categorized as a crime thriller, this is not a thrilling film at all. It lacks many of the qualities of a good crime thriller while barely having the qualities of any other genre. After a somewhat suspenseful opening scene, the movie loses its steam and becomes a muddled mess.
Much of the film feels very old-fashioned, like a detective movie straight out of the 1990s. Hancock finished the first draft of this film in 1993, and it very much feels like a product of that era, with scenes that are reminiscent of classic thrillers like Se7en.
Hancock does an excellent job maintaining a slightly eerie atmosphere throughout the film, with much of its violence left offscreen and some mysteries, but it never reaches its full potential. We have a star-studded cast here with Washington, Malek, and Jared Leto, who have all won Oscars for their work in other films.
But none of them are at the top of their game here. The actors have little to work with in the script, with Washington and Malek appearing to phone in their performances. Leto has the more complex character, as he plays Albert Sparma, a crime buff who becomes the foremost suspect in the serial killer case.
While Leto has a reputation for going to shocking lengths to get into character, he doesn’t do much in the film besides whisper without emoting. While he does a better job with Sparma than he did with the Joker, this is not one of his more memorable performances despite his serviceable creepiness.
It’s also disappointing how emotionally distant the characters are. Besides a few moments here and there, the characters have very little for the audience to relate to. We see that Deacon is a bit of a lonely person, and we get hints of a past that haunts him, but there is nothing more beyond the little things.
This is an uninteresting film from an emotional standpoint and a story standpoint; crime thrillers should keep the audience and the characters guessing, with leads that contradict each other and moments that surprise viewers. While Hancock gives little tastes of that, it can feel like we’re stuck with a subpar appetizer rather than a delightful entrée.
Whenever the movie feels like it’s headed somewhere great, it veers left, almost as if it’s scared to do anything too remarkable. Unfortunately, this results in a slow, unremarkable film with barely any tension or a memorable scene.
Hancock has written and directed many critically successful films in the past, which few have achieved. It’s clear that he has wanted to make this movie for a while, and he directs this film with a very committed vision.
But the script was in desperate need of a few more rewrites; the characters aren’t interesting enough, nor do they go to places dark enough to make up for the drab, sluggish plotting. The mystery in the film has very few interesting puzzle pieces for the audience to put together. Everyone is very one-note in this film, which is to the film’s detriment.
Nothing unexpected occurs until the final act, which was a bit risky, but ultimately felt as if it amounted to nothing. While there are a few passable sequences throughout, this is a vastly disappointing crime thriller with a script too barebones for its own good.
Grade: ★★☆☆☆ [4/10, C-]
Rating: R for violent/disturbing images, language, and full nudity