Given writer/director John Lee Hancock’s cast, I was expecting better from “The Little Things,” but sadly he missed the mark, whether it was dialogue, timing or both. Hancock also draws from so many better films of this genre, like Jonathan Demme’s “Silence of the Lambs,” David Fincher’s “Seven” and “Zodiac.”
Denzel Washington stars as a deputy sheriff in a neighboring county, tasked with picking up some requested evidence from the Los Angeles sheriff’s department. Washington’s Joe Deacon used to be their star detective, until he lost it agonizing over a serial killer he could never find. After a heart attack and a divorce, he resigned and moved away.
But now he’s back and meets the young detective who took his place, a very self-assured Jimmy Baxter (played by a somnambulant Rami Malek). Baxter is working a murder that has all the earmarks of the serial killer Deacon couldn’t find, and invites him along on the latest. Deacon is hooked, takes leave and stays to help Baxter, and do some investigating of his own.
He’s looking at a repairman in proximity to the murders, a guy named Albert Sparma. Deacon is thinking he looks good for the murders and persuades Baxter to investigate him. Baxter is game, though his boss tells him that Sparma is crazy, a crime addict. Sparma had confessed to a murder eight years prior, even though he was ten miles away from where it had occurred. But Deacon is so sure he’s the killer. It’s just a matter of finding proof, says Deacon, “It’s the little things.”
Jared Leto plays Sparma wearing a fake tummy and a fat man’s gait. He even has this hollow stare that’s meant to make him look guilty. But his long silences are just boring.
Finally Deacon and Baxter, warned off from properly assigning help with their now narrowed pursuit, are tailing Sparma themselves. And while Baxter keeps watch, Deacon sneaks in to Sparma’s apartment to look around for clues. But before you can say, “Let me out of here,” Sparma’s persuaded Baxter to take a ride to where the bodies are buried...and Baxter falls for it.
I’m sure this film could be more, with a better script and a different director, but by the end I didn’t care. I think Hancock thought he could flesh out his inert screenplay with smoke and mirrors (whispering to bodies on the medical examiner’s slab and Sparma’s long silences). But what the director gave us was “no sizzle and,” sadly, “no steak.”
See you at the movies.