By Christian DiMartino
John Lee Hancock’s new thriller The Little Things was supposedly written by Hancock shortly after he wrote the lost Clint Eastwood gem, A Perfect World. A Perfect World was released in 1993. I’m not sure what happened in-between, but David Fincher’s Se7en was released in 1995, and alas, the rest is history. The rest being, Hancock has finally dusted off his script from the 90s, and now brought us The Little Things.
Why do I mention this? Well, the reviews for The Little Things have sort of been all over the place, but one thing many critics can agree on is that The Little Things is a lot like Se7en. Unfortunately, Se7en beat The Little Things to the punch. Here is a film that has arrived just a little too late, in a most unpleasant year. Hancock’s film isn’t terrible, necessarily, but it doesn’t really have much new to offer. There have been multiple crime murder noirs in the vein of Se7en that have been released since the 1995 gem, and frankly, if The Little Things was going to attempt to make its stamp as another one, I wish said stamp would’ve been a grittier, edgier one. If you’re gonna play with the big leagues, you have to earn it.
The film is headlined by two-time Academy Award winner Denzel Washington, Academy Award winner Jared Leto, and (sigh) Academy Award winner Rami Malek. A fellow colleague pointed out how it would’ve been much more inspired casting if Leto and Malek switched roles. Malek being the creepy weirdo (wouldn’t be too much of a stretch) and Leto be the hotshot FBI agent. A fine idea, but that being said, Leto is a ball in this role. So in my eyes, it would’ve been much better had we done away with Malek altogether, and gotten, say, Oscar Isaac. Then maybe, just maybe, The Little Things might have risen past its familiarity. Having said that, it’s not a film I enjoyed, necessarily, but it’s not without its merits, either.
Set in L.A. in 1990 (giving off even more of a vibe that Hancock dusted the script off), the film revolves around a group of murders, naturally. Essentially, the film follows two members of law enforcement as they try to solve the mystery. Again, original. One such member of law enforcement is Joe “Deke” Deacon (Washington), a former FBI agent and current sheriff who is haunted by a former case. The other is one Detective Jim Baxter (Malek), a sort of arrogant young lad whose determination reminds Joe a lot of himself. The only suspect they manage to really pin it on is one Albert Sparma (Leto), and perhaps it’s not fair to profile someone like this, but if you could see this guy, you’d assume him guilty as well.
Part of the problem with The Little Things is that I wasn’t always compelled by its mystery. Perhaps because there really isn’t all that much to the mystery- we’re basically led to believe that Leto is the suspect, and the film doesn’t really bat an eye at anyone else. By the time you reach the end of the film though, you’re left with the feeling that Hancock wasn’t really making a film about a mystery, but rather, the lengths that these men would go to to solve said mystery. A decent idea, except it would’ve helped if he had something compelling to match it. As it stands, the film feels like basic murder mystery procedure. Hancock (The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks) is an odd choice to direct this sort of material, and the film at hand would’ve been far more interesting if it tried to go all the way. There are images in Se7en that linger in the mind and haunt you. The Little Things comes across more like a two hour episode of C.S.I (speaking of which, did you ever see the two-part special directed by Quentin Tarantino? Great stuff). Here’s the thing though: it’s not poorly made at all, I just wish it was made… differently.
Washington is his usual great self, even in a quieter piece of work like this. Malek… I just don’t like him. I think wearing those goofy prosthetic teeth for that Queen movie morphed his face into something all kinds of weird. Yet it’s not just the look. It often looks as if he doesn’t know what kind of facial reaction he should be wearing. In the climactic sequence, which is unnerving, I swear to God, he is smirking, and the scene doesn’t call for that. With that said though, maybe he was just smirking because of the wonderful nuttiness of Leto’s performance.
Leto doesn’t arrive in The Little Things until about 40 minutes, and I won’t lie, he’s the best part of the movie. Recently nominated for a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award, the second the film focuses on Leto, the film comes alive in fascinating ways. He gives a performance that is genuinely creepy. We know it’s Leto, but if you hadn’t told me it was Leto, I might not have known it was Leto. Not only is he creepy, but you can tell he’s having a ball- he’s a hoot, and every time he’s off screen, I wanted him to come back, even if I was afraid.
The film succeeded… at getting The B-52’s Roam stuck in my head for the rest of the evening, so good job. I also thoroughly enjoy that weird Leto performance, the score from Thomas Newman, the cinematography. Lastly, I liked the conclusion- some may not, but like the theme song from The Leftovers season 2 stated, I choose to let the mystery be. I liked the conclusion almost enough to mildly recommend the film, but also, the journey getting to that conclusion is a bit too much of a so-so thing.
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