Denzel Washington’s latest film, directed by John Lee Hancock, is a dud. What could have been an interesting film turns out to be nothing more than a lackluster Se7en rip-off. At times there are sparkles of something more, but The Little Things is restrained by its police procedural talk, an overlong run time, and plotting that never delivers. The film tries so hard to be unpredictable and mysterious that it becomes lost. It starts off with an ominous car following a young lady driving ahead, this tension-filled scene is the highlight of the film, but from then on out, The Little Things is lackluster. However mysterious and tense that first scene is, it doesn’t excuse the complete lack of interest in going back to that witness, who does show up but is forgotten straight after. This is case and point for its narrative problems, it’s as if Hancock forgot he had to make a cohesive film.
The Little Things is a complete waste of potential as it desperately tries to be like Se7en. Jared Leto plays the literal counterpart to Se7en‘s mystery character, played by an actor who shall not be named. The mystery of the film’s serial killer follows step-by-step to David Fincher’s film and on reflection, it’s very poor. The twists and turns are unrevelatory, building up to an ending that is eye-rolling and obvious. It tries to keep the mystery ambiguous and keep one guessing, yet in its attempts to be mysterious, its story tropes hang out like a sore thumb.
The story follows Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) and Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), two law enforcement officials, who join forces as they begin to search for a serial killer who’s been progressively building up a body count in Los Angeles. As they track the killer, it becomes evident that Deacon is hiding something as he gets deeper and deeper into the case. Haunted and reminded of a case up North, Deacon must face his past to aid with the events that follow.
The biggest problem is the writing and Hancock’s direction, which is unknowingly formulaic. Hancock loses control over the narrative he tries to craft, but it doesn’t help that the cast is working to the bare minimum of their abilities. Washington is good, perhaps the only decent part of the film. However, he isn’t anything more than just good, The Little Things is just a stroll in the park for the Oscar-winning actor. The main casting problems lie with Rami Malek and Jared Leto. Malek does not convince, he just utters the written lines in a somewhat somber way and does some inconspicuous actions. Ultimately, Malek doesn’t impress, but it’s Jared Leto who is the big letdown. He plays a smart, somber, and supposedly all-knowing ‘crime buff’, who is very obviously the killer (or is he not?). The cookie-cutter role written for him attempts to be unsettling but falls short as almost laughably obvious. Leto and his role fit into the contemporary serial-killer stereotype of the cunning, genius criminal. It is nothing new or engaging.
The film rarely engages visually, cinematographer John Schwartzman fails to capture the atmosphere of 90’s Los Angeles. Basic to its core, the few aesthetically captivating moments occur when the film replicates and reimagines a crime scene from Se7en. The dynamic between the two leads is never that interesting, one might slip into occasional intrigue with Washington’s character, but together? Not really at all. As soon as Leto is introduced, the film suddenly loses everything it had built up and becomes vividly a spin-off of a popular film that The Little Things has nothing on. That’s to its detriment, as its focus becomes muddled and feels like a failed imitation.