This is a movie I really wanted to like. On paper, it seems like a winner. Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto all in a singular crime thriller. The Little Things has all the ingredients for a great movie, and my dad and I never pass on a new movie with Denzel. As a result of my viewing of this movie, I am left confused, disappointed, and deprived of a film experience that John Lee Hancock wanted to give but simply doesn’t know how to give yet.
This is not to disparage John Lee Hancock’s directorial abilities, however. He knows to get awesome performances from his actors. If you go back on his filmography, you will recognize he has made some heavy-hitters — The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks, and The Founder. Two things in common with these films are their exemplary level of filmmaking and acting performances. Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for The Blind Side, and you only need to see the trailer of The Founder to recognize that Michael Keaton was robbed of a nomination. But another thing that these films have in common is that they are all in the same genre — historical/biographical films.
John Lee Hancock has a battle-tested track record in that genre, and it seems that he has been trying to turn a new leaf and expand into the crime genre. This is something I get excited by. I love it when directors try to do something different from what they’re known for. But there is always a risk in taking a different route. His first foray into the crime genre was The Highwaymen on Netflix, which was released to mediocre acclaim. This movie is unfortunately not any more deserving.
The script is the biggest thing holding it back. The story centers on two cops — an old seasoned cop (Denzel Washington) and a young hotshot detective (Rami Malek) as they try to solve the murders of a serial killer. The biggest suspect is played by Jared Leto. The script has the structure of an old-school thriller, and the actors give great performances. But the story doesn’t bring anything new. It takes a cool approach in focusing on how the crimes impact Denzel and Rami’s characters. And, while the ending is in line with the themes of the film, it doesn’t feel fulfilling. It’s a slow burn, and I personally have no problems with slow burns. But they face a riskily small margin for error, where if you do not make a huge impact at the end, the audience feels like they wasted their time. Or, they at least need to be balanced by action sequences. There is very little of that in this film.
It’s a real shame because the characters in this film are very interesting. Their backstories are very engaging, and you want to learn more about them. In addition, some of the scenes, including the opening, were incredibly well done. The world that John Lee Hancock created (oh, did I mention he was a co-writer of this film?) has really cool ideas, overall. But, making a well-paced narrative in that world is precisely what he struggled with, bringing the experience down quite a few levels.
At the time of writing this, The Little Things is currently available on HBO Max until the end of the month, so if you’re already a subscriber, feel free to check it out, guilt-free — especially if you are a fan of the actors. But, even in a world without COVID-19, I wouldn’t go to a theater for this one.
I am a fan of all the people involved in The Little Things. I do hope that another project gets inspired from their experience of making this film and that these actors get paired up in some fashion once again in the future. My other hope, however, is that they have a better script next time around.