“The Little Things,” a Los Angeles-set crime drama now available in select theatres and on PVOD, features a trio of Oscar winners in a dark story that shows the soft underbelly of the glamour capitol.
Set in 1990, pre-DNA testing, this is a story of old-fashioned police work. Wits, stakeouts, payphones and bleary eyes are their tools. Obsession and black coffee fuel them.
Oscar winner number one Denzel Washington is Joe Deacon, a deputy sheriff in small town California, whose job as a big city detective is long in the rearview mirror. When he joins strait-laced LAPD detective Sgt. Jim Baxter (Oscar winner number two, Rami Malek) on the hunt for a serial murderer, they focus on Albert Sparma (Oscar winner number three, Jared Leto) an off-kilter character they suspect is the killer. Turns out, their case reverberates with echoes from Deacon’s troubled past.
“The Little Things” sets up an interesting mystery. The SoCal setting resonates with an eerie Golden State Killer sun-dappled vibe and there are enough cryptic clues to keep you—and Deacon and Baxter—guessing. Washington and Malek play an odd couple, brought together by their shared obsessions, and Leto is suitably sideways to lend an aura of menace to his character. But, taken as a whole, the elements feel let down by the climax of the story. No spoilers here, but Baxter’s behavior in the minutes leading up to the film’s resolution don’t feel authentic, as though they are not driven by the character and what he would do in the situation. Instead, the ending feels informed simply by the need to wrap up the story in a dramatic way.
It’s too bad because most of what comes before is quite good. Deep characterizations, worthy of the trio’s Oscar wins, help set the scene. Writer and director John Lee Hancock avoids the visual clichés of most Los Angeles sets dramas; there’s palm trees, but no Hollywood highlights, just rundown motel rooms and skid row streets. It all adds up, until Baxter’s inexplicable decisions (AGAIN, NO SPOILERS HERE) take the viewer out of the story.
As Deacon says several times in “The Little Things,” life and, in this case, storytelling are all about the little things, the details that come together to tell the tale. Hancock gets most of the little things right, but not all.