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Review: Even with Denzel Washington, cop thriller ‘The Little Things’ is a frustrating ’90s throwback

  • January 27, 2021

“The Little Things” is like a 1990s crime thriller that’s been sitting on a shelf for 20 or so years. Honestly, it probably should have stayed there.

Written and directed by John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side”), the dark psychological drama (★★ out of four; rated R; in theaters and streaming on HBO Max Friday) stars a trio of Oscar winners: Denzel Washington and Rami Malek as a couple of cops desperately trying to find a serial killer, and Jared Leto in a most Jared Leto role, as the very strange dude who is automatically everybody’s lead suspect. It’s just the kind of film that Washington also would have done back in the day, though in the Denzel pantheon, the convoluted “Little Things” isn’t quite “The Bone Collector” and is definitely no “Fallen.”

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Deke (Denzel Washington, left) gets in the face of Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) during an interrogation in the crime thriller The Little Things.

Jim Baxter (Malek) is the city’s top cop now, and he and Deke have an early run-in when the older man blocks Baxter’s car in the police parking lot. But Baxter respects Deke’s instincts (and has heard stories), so he brings the more experienced lawman into an ongoing investigation involving the connected murders of young women. A bloody crime scene unlocks an old passion for Deke, and he sticks around for a couple of days as the two detectives team up to find the murderer.

Clues lead them to the door of an oddball appliance deliveryman and avowed crime nut named Albert Sparma (Leto), who drives Deke and Baxter batty in the interrogation room, and a messy plot forms around these three men that leads to some neo-noir stakeout scenes and an ending that might not satisfy everybody.

The movie’s exploration of obsession and a sliding scale of what’s right vs. what’s wrong is among the aspects that “Little Things” does well. And there’s always some positive with Washington in a thriller like this.

Washington does what he can here to craft a man in self-exile who, be it to stave off the boredom of his life or just needing closure, goes down a road that already ruined him once and could do so again. The gradually revealed mystery of his character gives the viewer a reason to stick around even when the film goes a little off the rails, and Washington gets a few fantastic quiet moments spent connecting with victims in heartfelt, haunting fashion.

Deke (Denzel Washington, left) teams with LA top cop Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) to find a killer in The Little Things.

Malek, himself a recent best actor winner for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” is another story. There is a whole bunch of unnecessary scenery chewing on his part as a cop whom Deke recognizes himself in, for better and for worse. And Leto, looking very “America’s Most Wanted” with long hair, beard and sunken eyes, is as creepy as you’d hope, yet overall leans a bit one-dimensional. The cat-and-mouse toying between Deke and Sparma is fun to watch – two thespians each finding a worthy adversary – though “Little Things” mines a bunch of vintage cop-movie cliches (including an important scene in an isolated setting a la “Seven”) without an abundance of nuance.

The title refers to what Deke tells Baxter will “rip you apart.” But it’s the little things that the film also misses the most.

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