By Bradley Griffith
This is right up my alley. My favorite kind of movie is a hard-boiled mystery and thriller wrapped into one that keeps you guessing right up to the end. Not only does “The Little Things” give you all of those things, but it also stars acting legend Denzel Washington. What more could you ask for? “The Little Things” is now in theaters and available to stream through HBO Max.
Joe Deacon (Washington) is a sheriff’s deputy in Kern County, a rural county north of Los Angeles, in 1990. With the exception of a mangy mutt who hangs around his house, Deacon lives alone in his desert home. He mostly lives a quiet life now as one of the more junior deputies on the force, a far cry from his previous life.
Deacon’s boss asks him to drive to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office to obtain some evidence needed for a local case. The evidence is being tested until the following morning and while he is waiting Deacon runs into some old friends from the force, where he used to be a top homicide detective. He also runs into a new cop, Detective Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek). Baxter wants Deacon’s help.
A serial killer is terrorizing Los Angeles and Baxter is in charge of the investigation. He knows of the legend of Joe Deacon, and wants another pair of experienced eyes on the case, though he is reluctant to ask. Deacon pretends he’s not interested, but everyone knows he wants back in the game.
Deacon didn’t leave L.A. on a voluntary basis and he is slowly dying in the desert as a patrol officer. He wants a real investigation, and he thinks that not only can Baxter help him with inside information, but also that he can solve the string of murders on his own. Deacon narrows his focus to a suspect named Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), but any evidence against him is scarce or non-existent.
I don’t recall the last time I saw a really good movie about a serial killer. Sure, there have been a few in the last several years, but none that made more than a tiny blip on the radar screen of classic films like “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Seven” and “Zodiac.” While it’s not quite in their league, “The Little Things” is easily one of the best movies released since this awful pandemic began.
The acting was superb. Denzel is Denzel. While he does seem to play the same type of character in many movies, he has that character down perfect and it works perfectly as Joe Deacon. Denzel always manages to give off this aura that he can do anything and do it better than anybody else. At first I wasn’t sure about his partner, Rami Malek. He seemed a strange choice for a homicide detective. But as the movie progressed he grew on me and made me realize that his casting was maybe a little bit genius.
Having said all that, clearly the best acting performance in the film was turned in by Jared Leto. He was sensational as the creepy Albert Sparma. Leto was the ideal foil to the buttoned-up Baxter and Deacon’s man with nothing to lose. Sparma knew how to strike nerves in each of their psyches. For all intents and purposes, Leto was Sparma. It is a performance that should win multiple awards.
Two things drive a movie like this forward and make it good or bad. The first is the action, which was top notch. The second is the writing, or the story. You can’t have a good serial killer movie if the story is boring or too unbelievable, and especially not if the ending is predictable. Good news: this film keeps you on the edge of your seat, keeps you guessing, and provides one of the most unusual endings you will see in a thriller. Some may not like the ending, but I thought it was brilliant.
If you like thrillers, or even just miss going to the movie theater, “The Little Things” is a great choice. Movie theaters have so few people now that they are safer than any restaurant, and much more fun.
Rated R for violent/disturbing images, language, and full nudity.