The Little Things is a crime drama mystery thriller, penned by John Lee Hancock in the ’90s. The project subsequently got stuck in development limbo as a number of directors and stars were attached, but it never got off the ground. The Little Things was written in 1993 after wrapping on A Perfect World, two years before the release of David Fincher’s Se7en starring Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey. It’s important to know this because The Little Things has so many similarities with Se7en from the subject matter, dual detectives, dank atmosphere to its trio of performances that you’d think it had been its inspiration. The film centres on Kern County Deputy Sheriff, Joe Deacon, who rekindles a haunting secret in Los Angeles when a special assignment turns into a full-blown search for a serial killer.
Being modernised to break out of its ’90s mold, it’s quite ironic that The Little Things hasn’t tried to distance itself from Se7en. Offering up a bleak world of endless night and creeping loneliness, the film even tips the hat to Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks painting. Nestling into its state of decay, this dark energy translates into a pensive slow-boiling moodiness that helps the actors sink into this stoic world. The Little Things even employs a familiar character dynamic, leveraging its rising star in Rami Malek, seasoned veteran in Denzel Washington and dark character sideshow that is Jared Leto.
Strangely enough, Denzel Washington was one of the actors considered for the film in its earliest iterations and comes full circle more than 25 years later. Having an actor of his calibre is what spurred Jared Leto into taking on what he calls another “dark character”, which led to him garnering a Golden Globe nomination. Having a few touches of True Detective, it seems the popularity of Nic Pizzolatto and Cary Fukunaga’s award-winning crime series was the real spark John Lee Hancock needed to rekindle interest in finally broaching The Little Things.
“I’m only going to ask once… what’s in your pocket?”
The film has a dream cast of big name actors with Malek fresh off the triumph of Bohemian Rhapsody, Leto constantly sniping from the shadows and Washington returning fresh from a hiatus. Their presence and performances are the main reason to see this dark, gloomy and unsettling cat and mouse serial killer flick. While it has echoes of Se7en and Zodiac, it’s a far cry from Fincher’s tragic worlds, not amassing the same plodding sense of heft. While there are touches of what made the shadowy twists-and-turns of Se7en great, this chiller is more concerned with the gamesmanship between its detectives and prime suspect.
The Little Things doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from other films within the subgenre. While it does enough to make you curious, the characters are thinly scripted and the storytelling swathes you in the realm of The Little Things without building suspense or doing the foundational work to draw emotional investment. The cinematography, production design and mis-en-scene are artful, even handsome, and the drama’s not void of nuance but the dull familiarity of it all does tend to undermine gains. The dank and dark Fincher decay keeps The Little Things visually-captivating, yet it frequently verges on cliché.
The mainstay is the trio of performances with its principal stars in Washington, Malek and Leto. Each the owner of one of those coveted golden statuettes, the competitive and respectful atmosphere does raise the bar when it comes to performance, something that helps prevent the bleak atmosphere from becoming cloying. Leaning quite heavily on its stars, there are enough curiosities to keep you loosely invested and while mostly playing it safe, the performances tip the balance when it comes to entertainment value. A subplot involving “Deke” could have been mined for more dramatic tension and character texture but it does offer a welcome twist. The Little Things may not do enough to sway casual viewers but makes a stellar subgenre entry for ardent crime drama fans.
The bottom line: Enticing