By Alycia Gilb
Even before starting “The Little Things,” I had great expectations. With a star-studded cast and famed director John Lee Hancock, the film held promise. Unfortunately, the promise that “The Little Things” held was just not delivered on.
A work in progress for almost 30 years, the screenplay for “The Little Things” was written in 1993 by John Lee Hancock. The neo-noir film was originally presented to Stephen Spielberg, who declined to direct the film as he thought the storyline was “too dark.”
“The Little Things” starts out with a strong hook — one much like the beginnings of every episode of Law and Order SVU: a young woman is being pursued by a mysterious car while driving late at night on a remote highway. As a fan of SVU and an avid watcher of true crime documentaries, the hook surely did its job. I was ready for a suspenseful two hours that ended in a neat, satisfying package.
Cutting to the next scene we meet our main characters: Joe “Deek” Deacon (Denzel Washington), a humble, small-town deputy, and Sgt. Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), a sharp-dressed, smooth-talking, bigshot sergeant. The two team up to investigate the murders of four young women in Los Angeles.
Throughout the movie, we start to realize that there’s something slightly off about Deek. In one scene Deek’s colleague, Amy Anders (Olivia Washington), agrees to run a file for him, but then says that if something goes wrong, she couldn’t back him up again.
As mentioned earlier, “The Little Things” really does continue to play out like a star-studded episode of CSI or Law and Order. There are the classic crime scene investigation scenes, with Baxter and Deek and a crew of forensic scientists searching a room with a blacklight. Like any other crime show, the film includes stakeouts and unwarranted searches, lineups and interrogations. It’s all pretty mundane … until we meet Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) who adds a much-needed level of creepiness to the plot.
Sparma, a greasy appliance salesman, is a self-described “crime buff.” Deek becomes suspicious of Sparma after investigating the appliance store he works at. Later, Baxter finds his apartment and searches his trash.
When taken in for questioning, the suspect is confident and deflective. He looks Baxter dead in the eyes and says, “here’s the truth: I didn’t do it.” Humoring the detectives, however, Sparma continues his interview supplying strange quips and sarcastic comebacks. At one point he is given a picture of one of the victims and first says, “pretty little thing she was,” and then, “eleven more and you could make a calendar.” All things considered, Sparma’s scenes were the most interesting of the entire movie.
The name “The Little Things” really holds true to this movie because they truly do pull all the little details to investigate the case — when Anders was analyzing Sparma’s trash, she pointed out that Sparma is from the east coast because he folds his pizza. It was also noted that one of the victims’ last meals was roast beef, which was being served as a special at a restaurant that Deek saw Sparma enter. At one point in the movie, Deek says to Baxter, “It’s the little things that are important, Jimmy. It’s the little things that get you caught.”
And it was the little things that led the two detectives to believe that Sparma was the murderer — but there’s a problem: he provided an alibi.
After the questioning of Sparma, the movie really starts to take a turn for the worse, and as far as I’m concerned, it should’ve just ended there. After releasing Sparma, Deek and Baxter continue to pursue the man, as they believe that he is still the killer. For the next 30-50 minutes, I almost completely lost interest. I won’t get into details about the drawn-out events that followed, but this part of the film ends with Baxter and Sparma in a vast, remote, dirt field.
The ending starts out incredibly unsatisfying, in fact, nearing the last few minutes of the film, I looked at how much I’d had left and thought: that’s really it? Things only just tie together at the very last minute — and I use “just” quite literally. Sure, the loose ends were tied, but barely so.
It may be that a neo-noir isn’t my cup of tea, but to me, “The Little Things” was the kind of movie that you spend two hours watching and feel like your time has just been wasted afterward; an unfortunate feeling considering the cast that HBO Max was able to pull in for this project.