Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 8 minutes, Director – John Lee Hancock
A former homicide detective turned small-town sheriff (Denzel Washington) teams up with a young California detective (Rami Malek) to track down a serial-killer whose murders match those from a previous case he oversaw.
How can you tell when a character is a psychopath? A twisted serial-killer that needs to be locked up? Films have many different ways of showing us this. Sometimes it’s down to the performance, sometimes the direction, a camera angle or the specific lines of dialogue in the screenplay. In John Lee Hancock’s latest, The Little Things, the answer to the question is when Jared Leto asks for “pineapples and jalapenos” on a pizza. The film attempts to keep the nature of Leto’s wild-eyed, rarely blinking character ambiguous, you’re supposedly meant to decide for yourself whether he’s a killer or not – his performance certainly alludes to the fact that he is. Either way fellow Academy Award winners Denzel Washington and Rami Malek are close on the case following him closely, from just after the hour mark onward.
Washington plays Joe Deacon, a former homicide detective turned small-town sheriff. When a number of murders similar to ones he investigated years before crop up he finds himself pairing up with detective Jim Baxter (Malek). The two travel throughout the county to the sites of new victims of a mysterious killer, going from scene to scene seemingly arriving at a dead end each time. While the content might have a feeling of a fairly by-the-numbers mystery-thriller it’s elevated by the two central performances.
Yet, even with the two performances that lead the feature there’s still a fair deal that the screenplay doesn’t quite delve into enough. Various hints to the past of Washington’s character during his time in the city are only briefly shown before either being forgotten about or left too long for any major interest to be formed around them. There’s a lack of impact because of this and the overall emotional engagement with the film dims. The idea that seems to be held on to for the longest amount of time, is the belief that Jared Leto is possibly the killer – in the eyes of Baxter and Deacon anyway – and the investigation into him. It might come in late into the film, and certainly be the point where it begins to weaken as it goes on; feeling more and more like a late-90’s, early 2000’s crime thriller, but it’s absolutely what the film focuses on most, which to an extent removes some of the mystery of the first half of the film for the, not as successful, mystery of a potential suspect.
This all coming from a screenplay that feels as if it comes from such an era, and hasn’t had an updated draft since. Featuring lines of dialogue such as “your d!ck is harder than Chinese arithmetic” before moving swiftly on to the rest of the scene. It’s all part of something that feels overall underdone and lacking. While it starts off fairly middling, if already dated, there’s a continuing spiral-like decline as the film repeats itself, forgets ideas and simply seems to delve into something different every so often in ineffective mystery. The biggest emotional response is that to the film’s most disturbing content, Jared Leto’s character’s pizza order.
The Little Things suffers not from a lack of focus, but from that which isn’t focused on enough, creating an overall feeling of something missing or not explored enough in the film, that which we do get unfortunately can’t be lifted by the central performances of Washington and Malek.