Written and Directed by John Lee Hancock
Starring Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto, Natalie Morales
The Little Things is a film that threatens the viewer right off the bat with images of a young girl, driving alone at night. A mysterious car pursues her, and instead of just driving on, she makes herself appear to be any of a numerous dunder-headed victims in a slasher film. Then it takes a turn. The film moves into the phase of a detective story, somewhat in the mold of Se7en.
Deacon (Washington) is a Kern County Deputy, who seems content with his job enforcing the law out where the biggest problem is vandalism. His complacency is disrupted when the Sheriff sends him back to his old precinct in L.A., where it’s clear there are skeletons in the closet. Soon after his arrival, he is informed that he will need to stick around. This leads circumstance to thrust Deacon into the midst of a murder investigation with the most driven LASD Detective, Baxter (Malek) leading the way. If this sounds too coincidental, it doesn’t really matter. The change in tone for both Washington and Malek’s characters is interesting enough to push into curiosity.
Deacon takes some vacation time and begins to investigate. The murder reminds him of an investigation he was working on years earlier. The case that made him move on from LASD. Thankfully, the filmmakers choose to bypass any of the turf-war bull. Deacon and Baxter recognize one another as the same type of person and they recognize the predator they are pursuing as a “shark.” They agree on some things, disagree on others. There is no amount of tape measuring. Hancock smartly allows for them to act as professionals and adults.
Deacon eventually clues in on suspect Albert Sparma (Leto). Through intelligent machinations we are allowed evidence that it very likely is the repairman, but proof will not avail itself to bail out the viewer. We have to go with our gut, just like Deacon and Baxter. All three lead performances work well to give and receive signals, but nothing overtly played as to be without a shred of doubt. The last 2 acts feels like walking a tightrope.
Hancock does a good job not hammering the shadow Deacon sees lfollowing the younger investigator. We understand that they tread over the same ground. This allows for a more unconventional resolution that might leave some disappointed for what will be the lack of the expected resolution. It makes perfect sense if you understand the story’s point is not to nab the killer so much as end a personal nightmare.
Jared Leto is one who seems to try to hard to be creepy in his films. Usually he oversells the point. This time he is closer to the mark, giving us someone who while detestable, may be either innocent or too smart for his pursuers.
Of the cast, Malek seems to struggle most with his role. It never really seems that he is a family man, he shifts from preoccupied to tortured and back. This might be the point, even if it takes some of the steam out of the ending.
Washington elevates this material all by himself. His understanding of aging and the pain that breaks up human lives is like an even wiser latter day Eastwood. His movements indicate the pain of life without any overt reference. There are few actors that have attained his skill.
Overall, The Little Things is a satisfying film for this viewer. I appreciate ambiguity of the ending and actors willing to be shepherds with their frailty revealed while they seek to defend the rest of the herd.
(**** out of *****)