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"The Little Things" Review

All too often you see movies where at the end you're left wondering if anyone involved with the project actually read the script and recognized how illogical and unsatisfying it would be. Such is the case with John Lee Hancock's (The Blind Side) latest film - which is getting the simultaneous theatrical/HBO Max release treatment Wonder Woman 1984 and the entire 2021 Warner Bros slate is getting - which wastes the talents and time of its all-Oscar-winning lead cast.

Denzel Washington stars as Joe Deacon, a rural California county sheriff's deputy who is sent to Los Angeles to retrieve evidence for a local case. He is highly reluctant to go because he used to be a detective for the L.A. Country Sheriff's and left five years before under circumstances the film doles out slowly throughout. 

While there he meets his spiritual successor, a young hotshot detective, Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek), who is lead investigator for a series of unsolved murders involving young women which are reminiscent of a case that wrecked Deacon's life, health, marriage, and career. After some obligatory turf-warring, they join forces to try and crack the case with Deacon's old dog teaching Baxter's pup some new tricks. 

Their hunt rapidly focuses on Albert Sparma (Jared Leto - whose name alone may as well be Murdery McMurderer), an exceedingly greasy and hinky character who is so obviously the killer that he can't possibly be the killer. While he taunts the detectives, he once made a false confession to a murder years previously, so what's his deal?

Set in oddly-specific-for-no-reason October 1990 (probably to remove ubiquitous cell phones from the mix and make communications harder) The Little Things presents itself as low-key mystery thriller, but if not for the overpowered cast, the plot would barely qualify as a Law & Order episode plot. Hancock - who apparently wrote the script in the 1990s and couldn't make it until now, which is never a great sign for a story -  drips out Deacon's backstory and literally haunts him with the women whose murders he couldn't solve, but the farther along the plot progresses, he begins to conceal more than he reveals in order to maintain a mystery that's only sustained through narrative chicanery. 

Things really go off the rails in the third act when characters suddenly get very stupid and seemingly change personalities in order for the events to transpire. This leads to a denouement that is both inconclusive and unsatisfying, raising more questions than it answers. Considering Hancock's track record of entertaining, if lightweight, movies like The Rookie, The Blind Side, and The Founder (dude has a thing for definite articles, doesn't he?), that The Little Things ends up so drab and forgettable and troubling is an unwelcome departure from form. 

Performance-wise, Denzel is Denzel, but subdued. Carrying more weight than usual, he embodies the broken, haunted man Deacon has become. Occasionally there are the typical flashes of Denzel charisma (which his son, John David Washington of BlackKklansman and Tenet most certainly hasn't inherited), but not distractingly. Malek never really registers. Either his character is written too flat or he doesn't know how to make him three-dimensional. The MVP is Leto, who gives a flamboyant, but not cartoonish, performance as Sparma which makes the viewer question whether he's the killer or not, but is ultimately let down by the inconclusive script. 

Despite its pedigree, the fact The Little Things was slated for late-January release and not Oscar season, even allowing for the havoc wreaked by Hot Fad Plague 2020-21, shows the studio knew it wasn't much of an awards prospect. I wasn't even aware this movie existed until a few days before its release. Frankly, if not for the stars, it would be an ignored TV movie or something that showed up on Netflix with no fanfare. Even with the stars and the option to not have to leave the house to watch it on HBO Max, it's the not-so-little-thing called the weak script that make it not worth the time.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.


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