DISCLAIMER: I didn't see this film in a theater. I watched it with my HBO Max subscription. I highly recommend you don't go see it in a theater even if it is playing near you. That's too risky with all the surges in virus cases across the U.S. and the world. Stay safe!
The Little Things is about two cops attempting to solve a very similar string of serial murders. Joe "Deke" Deacon, left the L.A. County Sheriff's Department in disgrace five years prior, but he has to head down from his current post in Kern County in order to get some evidence for one of his cases. In L.A., Joe stumbles upon an investigation, led by the department's new star, Jim Baxter. The investigation mirrors much of Deke's own case from five years prior. The two of them team up and think they have their suspect, but is it really the killer or just a kook leading them astray? The film stars Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto, Chris Bauer, Michael Hyatt, Terry Kinney, Natalie Morales, Isabel Arraiza, and Glenn Morshower. The film is written and directed by John Lee Hancock. The film is exclusively streaming on HBO Max for the next 30 days as well as in theaters.
If you've been following my reviews for a while, you know I'm not that interested in the sort of police procedural that The Little Things is. What always frustrates me about them is the egos of the detectives involved. These films have nothing really to do with catching a killer, they have nothing to do with solving a crime, they have everything to do with the detectives saving the day for themselves. (Like, seriously, why is there such a ridiculous emphasis on jurisdictional bullshit? If the FBI can help, let them help! You're trying to stop someone from murdering people, get all the help you can, dummies!)
Those egos are especially apparent in The Little Things as so much time is spent with the suspected killer and the detectives mugging and attempting to outsmart each other. We hear so much here, and in similar films and television shows, about clearance and about "my" case. There's even some nerd/jock rivalry as there are a few scenes where the fingerprint tech is unable to get a solid match and Baxter tries to intimidate him and insult him into giving him results as if he's holding back Baxter for some reason.
Our yen for this type of justice is flawed because there is no real justice in how this case is completed. It seems so often, and is portrayed as noble, that police are more against the rule of law than the criminals they chase because the law only hinders them in their search. They, as protectors, should be above the laws they are sworn to protect. This portrayal perverts what the intention of police is supposed to be, but it's so ingrained in our cultural psyche that we cheer for them because they will bring justice, one way or the other.
Though those ideas tainted my viewing of this film, I do think John Lee Hancock created an intriguing story. More often than not I can call out the beats of one of these films within five minutes of its setup, but Hancock's script kept me guessing up until the last moments. He built some very interesting characters into a standard sort of plot.
I also liked the mood of the film. Hancock and cinematographer John Schwartzman created that neo-noir look and feel so well. The darkness is dark, but it's also saturated by florescent lighting, flashlight and headlight beams, and neon glows. I liked their dark stretches of highway and their seedy streets mixed with the open, bright beacon of the county sheriff's office and Baxter's neighborhood.
While Denzel Washington remains my favorite actor and likely the best actor working today, I couldn't take my eyes off of Jared Leto in the scenes he's in. He's the type of actor who you hear of his antics, his methods and can't help, but groan, yet he's very compelling. His ability to bring a character so whole cloth from the page is often astonishing. He looks, moves, and seems like he could be Albert Sparma, like this character was a real person he studied or brought forth into the world. Leto can be hit and miss, but here he's definitely hitting.
Overall, The Little Things wasn't for me. I think the ending to the present day story with the forgone conclusion to the flashback story just didn't sit well with me. I really don't like seeing police corruption on screen, especially if it's in service to their own ego driven stabs at justice. Though, I will say if you like neo-noir detective stories or police procedurals, this one may make you think more than many that are out there. See it if you like a mystery, skip it otherwise.