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The Little Things

Title: The Little Things

Describe This Movie In One Raiders of the Lost Ark Quote:

BELLOQ: It would take only a nudge to make you like me ... to push you out of the light.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Murder sparks burnt-out cop's interest in long-smoldering case.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 3 Shirley Temples out of 5

Tagline: "Some things never let you go."

Better Tagline: "Everyone's getting too old for this shit."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Rural California deputy Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) gets sent the Los Angeles on a routine errand only to find himself embroiled in a murder investigation with links to the case that forced him out of town. Paired with a hotshot young detective (Rami Malek), their focus soon narrows on a local weirdo (Jared Leto) who's almost too perfect a suspect.


"Critical" Analysis:
 Everything about The Little Things feels like a throwback. From the Silence of the Lambs-y opening of the (presumed) victim singing along to a classic American anthem (fine ... "Roam" by the B-52s) to Thomas Newman's string-laden score to the Se7en-ish rural ending, there's a distinctly '90s vibe to everything.

With good reason, as it turns out. Writer/director John Lee Hancock first penned the script in 1993, and it's been kicked around ever since, attached to a myriad of directors, before Hancock (The Blind Side, The Alamo) decided to take a stab at it himself.

The archetypes — ambitious young detective with something to prove, grizzled veteran who let a case ruin his life — are also easily recognizable. And when you have something this familiar, you'd better populate it with actors that can elevate the material.

Hancock certainly tried. Every promo you'll see for The Little Things touts the Oscar pedigree of its leads, and to an extent, they deliver. By now, Washington ought to have a patent on the Middle-Aged Dude Barely Holding It Together, and Malek definitely for sure won an Academy Award for a two-hour Freddie Mercury impression.

Then there's Leto. Albert Sparma (Jesus, that name) feels like a guy who'd cosplay as Suicide Squad's Joker for the lulz. He's Hannibal Lecter without the brains or the manners, and the ambiguity surrounding what, if any crimes he actually committed provides the only reasoning for why he'd be interesting at all.

Washington's Deacon is another in a long line of law enforcement types — going back to Manhunter's Will Graham, if not further — whose superpower is the ability to see through the killer's eyes, or something. We learn later on why his life was so torn asunder by a past case, but neither it nor the tortured lead-up are particularly surprising. Refreshingly, Deacon and Baxter get over their personality conflicts early on. Carrying their sniping on throughout an entire movie probably would've made The Little Things intolerable.

As it is, it's mostly just dated. If this movie had been filmed even a few years after it was initially written, it might have worked. Unfortunately, The Little Things is peppered with Deacon's musings about the nature of God, exchanges like "You and I are a lot alike" between Sparma and Baxter, and the tired cat-and-mouse shenanigans between the same. That last one being particularly laughable, with recent events reinforcing the fact that cops don't really need a reason to haul someone in.

Then again, Sparma's white.

Things threaten to go off the rails in the final act, when Malek commits an act of previously uncharacteristic stupidity. Fortunately (for one of the characters), things go a little awry, and the ending turns out not quite as predictable as it might have been. The Little Things is clichéd, imitative, and loaded with star power. To paraphrase Sgt. Hartman, sometimes star power is enough.

The Little Things is in theaters and streaming on HBO Max today.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar