3 out of 5 stars
When a film has three Academy Award-winning actors as the headliners and one of Hollywood’s proven writer/director’s at the helm, everything points to a winning combination. The tricky aspect of having all of these gifted individuals involved with one project is finding that ideal mixture that capitalises on their talents. Without sounding ironic, it truly comes down to the little things that determine if this story will be able to support the weight of expectation.
In the early 1990s in Los Angeles, a serial killer wreaks havoc on women of the night. His calling card is to leave behind very few clues to his existence, except for their mutilated bodies, a bag over their head and paying meticulous detail to their bodies after their murder. Joe "Deke" Deacon (Denzel Washington) had been on the case for years, but his health issues, failing marriage and poor professional judgment leads him to walk away from the LAPD. This leaves him with the choice to work down the road as a Kern County deputy sheriff in Bakersfield. Until he is pulled back into this investigation years later when he is sent to pick up evidence at the LAPD by his commanding officer.
Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek) is the current lead detective on the case and is the favoured man of the department, but he is struggling to find the killer. When he realises that the former detective on the case is in the station, he asks for Deacon’s help with investigating the latest killing. The violence inflicted on this victim is similar to the multiple murders that have plagued the city. With their combination of experience and drive, the two unlikely partners are led to believe that their suspect is the reclusive appliance repairman, Albert Sparma (Jared Leto). As the tensions begin to mount and they push the lines of ethics while trying to apprehend him, the law enforcement officers play a game of cat and mouse with the potential murderer. Yet, he always manages to be one step ahead of them while drawing them into the dark recesses of his twisted life.
Even though audiences may experience this story on the big screen, they may notice that there does not seem to be enough room for each actor in this production. John Lee Hancock (The Founder) has written a script with abundant potential as a slow burn that continually keeps audiences guessing as it blurs the lines between good and evil by making you question what to believe. Yet, inevitably one of the players is left out in the cold at the mercy of the other two's performances. This sidelined actor ends up being Rami Malek, who is left to remain within Leto and Washington's behemoth shadows.
The Little Things does manage to get under your skin as it crawls back into your thoughts days later. Unfortunately, these returning reflections are not due to the provocative conclusion or creative screenplay twists. Instead, these ponderings come from the weak character development and an ending that will leave audiences perplexed and potentially angry. Especially when one begins to think of the potential that this film had with this cast as we all hunger for a good murder mystery.
This is not to say that there were not some strong performances within the bumpy story arch. Washington manages to play to his strengths and steps into this role as if it was written for him. While the stand out of the star-studded trio was Jared Leto, who continually immerses himself in each part. There were no press accounts of any on-set shenanigans. Still, it must have been challenging to work alongside the method actor as he delivers one of the more disconcerting characters in film this year.
Hancock’s latest venture into the neo-noir genre had so much potential, but was crushed under the weight of expectation. It is worth seeing for Leto’s unnerving interpretation of a potential serial killer. Yet, in the end, it will leave most audiences wondering what little things were missing from this production that could have spun it into something extraordinary.
REEL DIALOGUE: Does God even exist?
One question that Deacon and Baxter consider is the existence of God. While they look over the latest murder victim, they begin to delve into the existential when confronted by ultimate evil. Suppose something so despicable could exist in this world. Is there any hope that there is a supreme representative of good to counter this dark element? For most people around the world, they would be able to answer positively with confidence.
This query smashes open the door to the discussion of Jesus’ existence. The amount of extra-biblical and biblical evidence that Jesus existed in actual history is overwhelming. No historian would claim that Jesus did not exist and The Bible is considered a reliable historical resource. This discussion has scope to think beyond a film review, but one worth engaging and studying.
For those who would like to explore the historicity of Jesus, a great resource is Dr. John Dickson's book and video series: The Christ Files.
John's studies are worth the time, but another great place to start is in the New Testament narratives themselves. The Gospel according to Luke is a great historical text to study.