By Lynn Venhaus
The little things do matter in this gritty cat-and-mouse thriller where three Oscar winners deliver strong nuanced performances.
What starts out as a crime procedural takes a more unusual approach, shaking up the genre as a former detective teams up with a big-deal LA detective to catch a serial killer. Young women are being hunted and murdered. The crime scenes are grisly. The trails are mostly dead ends.
Deke (Denzel Washington) is now a deputy sheriff in rural Kern County but once was a crackerjack LA detective. He becomes involved in the hunt for a serial killer and begins helping hotshot LA detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), much to the aggravation of Captain Carl (Terry Kinney).
Deke has a troubled history – he had left years ago after questions were raised about his methods during another string of murders. He had a triple bypass, a divorce and a suspension within six months. He’s haunted by the old case – but his intuitive skills – for the ‘little things’ – prove eerily accurate. However, his willingness to not play by the rules will impact the case for Baxter as they chase prime suspect Albert Sparma (Jared Leto). And he can’t really escape the past.
John Lee Hancock decides to circle around the case, preferring to offer minimal
nuggets, with limited disclosures, which is frustrating. The climax is
unsatisfying and the overall execution is a mixed bag.
Yet it’s the performances that are compelling, so that we become invested in the characters if not the methods.
The dance each character does around the other ones adds intrigue, particularly with how the creepy suspect Albert Parma messes with the two cops’ heads in such a disturbing way. Jared Leto, with some facial prosthetics, gives off eerie vibes as an odd loner, who takes great delight in his effect on them. Leto masterfully gets under their skin. His stares leave burn marks.
As the two sharp investigators doggedly chase down evidence, it’s clear Deke has considerable baggage, but his skills at profiling are superb. Denzel Washington knows this guy – but we don’t ever understand why his peers turned on him during a brutal manhunt years ago, because he’s really good at what he does.
We are left hanging. However, he and Rami Malek are convincing as two opposites who pair up well.
A crucial scene depends on us believing Malek’s Jim Baxter’s missteps. Not so sure such a meticulous by-the-book operative, slick on the outside and cool on the inside, would err that way.
Hancock, best known for “The Blind Side,” wrote this script 30 years ago, after he worked on the Clint Eastwood drama “A Perfect World” starring Kevin Costner.
He kept “The Little Things” set in 1990, so there aren’t any fancy technology tools to use, which adds an interesting element without cell phones or DNA evidence.
Your ultimate response will be how far you are willing to suspend belief and whether you are OK with loose ends. Unfortunately, expectations aren’t met.
““The Little Things” is a crime thriller written and directed by John Lee Hancock, starring Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto. Rated R for violent/disturbing images, language and full nudity, the movie is 2 hours, 7 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: B. Warner Brothers will release in theatres and on HBO Max on Jan. 29.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat daily newspaper. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association.