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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: The Little Things (2021)

Filmmaker John Lee Hancock wrote the first draft of The Little Things way back in 1993, originally writing it for Spielberg to direct which he eventually passed on. A multitude of other directors became attached, including the likes of Clint Eastwood, Warren Beatty and Danny DeVito. Finally, Hancock decided to take on the project himself. Best known for helming The Blindside, The Little Things is easily his darkest work to date - and with three strong actors leading the cast, it has potential.

It’s 1990. Deputy Sherriff Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel Washington) finds himself drawn to a murder closely resembling one he never solved years prior. Deke soon teams up with hotshot Detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) as they try to track down this killer who appears to be starting a crime spree in LA. They eventually find themselves suspecting local creep Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), but not everything is as it seems.

The Little Things was made in the wrong decade. 28 years after the fact with many good directors passing on it, it feels like it really missed the boat in terms of being an interesting crime caper of its time. Some scripts are timeless, but The Little Things really does feel like a product of its era, it’s a shame because since that time, there have been many great crime thrillers that have broken boundaries and challenged the conventions of storytelling and unique characterizations within the genre and the medium itself (Se7en, we are looking at you in particular). Now, it’s slightly unfair to make this judgment, but if The Little Things was made in 1993, before the darker and far superior Se7en came out in 1995, it may have stood a chance in becoming a decent if not respected crime thriller of its time. Alas, 28 years of a script gathering dust can be unkind; feeling like it didn’t go through beneficial rewrites that would separate itself from the pack and challenge today’s audiences, instead of being stuck in 1993.

Unlike Se7en, which it has been drawing unfavourable comparisons to, there isn’t much for us to care about in the lead detectives. Washington is watchable as a detective battling to move on from the case that got away from him. He is interesting in parts, but we hardly get to scratch the surface of him. Malek as Jim Baxter is a tricky one. Although he does feel miscast, he isn’t given a particularly interesting character to work with either, bearing the brunt of some awful, hammy dialogue that would fit perfectly in a clichéd procedural cop show. Even the name Jim Baxter feels like it belongs to a one-dimensional by-the-numbers character and that’s just what he is: nothing much on the surface, and nothing much beneath it either. When we are given the chance to delve deeper and interact with his wife and kids, it’s pushed to the background - denying us any chance of getting a well-rounded character. Don’t get me wrong, I am a massive fan of Rami Malek. He is a phenomenal actor and ignoring his obvious Oscar-winning role, his greatest piece (for me at least) of his career thus far is his turn in Mr. Robot (particularly the final season), showing just how damn amazing he is and can be. It sucks seeing him in a role that just doesn’t click with him, making it even harder for him to salvage.

It’s hard not compare The Little Things to Se7en as it bears many similarities, and seeing as both were written around the same time, it’s impossible to ignore what Se7en clearly did better; particularly with the protagonists. It managed to give so much depth to the characters of Sommerset (Freeman) and Mills (Pitt) using minimum insight into their personal lives. These small interactions carry so much weight because we feel these characters, and in those small bites, we manage to believe them as relatable and real people. We become convinced of their growth as people and partners in their hunt for John Doe. Moments between Detective Sommerset and Tracy (Paltrow) are minimal but are incredibly insightful into what makes Detective Mills tick. These emotional characterizations and connections between each other feel more poignant when the finale comes rolling through. We get weirdly similar instances in The Little Things with interactions like this, but they don’t pursue it further, eventually just burying it in the sand, not quite knowing how to use it.

However, there is one strong point that manages to carry The Little Things in small doses, and that is Jared Leto’s turn as Sparma. Completely unrecognizable, he manages to carry his mannerisms and voice to another plane of existence, convincing you this is really Albert Sparma, and not Jared Leto. It’s a shame that Leto’s first great performance in a while arrives in such a mediocre film, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else being able to pull the character off so convincingly in 2021 or even in 1993. Although his character is still fairly one-dimensional in its role as the “creep who is totally the murderer but also might not be”, he manages to make the most of it, elevating every scene he is in, raising the stakes through performance alone. In saying that, he is completely underused as a character, with the script never quite pushing the envelope of what Sparma’s potential as a big baddie could be, unlike what John Doe does and becomes in Se7en. Sure, Sparma keeps the detectives on their toes, but it’s nowhere nearly as thrilling and as menacing as it should be. This, unfortunately also hampers the story, as it seems to forget the motives of both Jim and Deke in their mission to catch the killer and save a missing girl.

Despite Leto’s strong turn, it’s not enough to save The Little Things from being an anonymous blip in a genre stacked with movies that have tackled themes, ideas and characters a whole lot better. As mentioned before, if this was made in 1993, it might be a different story, but The Little Things feels like an outdated, poor man’s Se7en. Stick to Se7en, and while you're at it, give the first season of True Detective another watch as well.

The Little Things is available to stream on HBO MAX, with a theatrical release scheduled for the 26h of February in South Africa.

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