Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Movie Review: The Little Things (2021)

The Little Things, Warner Brothers' latest film to hit both cinemas and HBO Max, is a 90s-style crime thriller set in the 90s.  Boasting an Academy Award-winning cast, the John Lee Hancock-helmed neo-noir stars Denzel Washington as an aging former detective now working as a small-town deputy, still obsessing over an unsolved case from his previous career.  Rami Malek plays a young hotshot police detective who welcomes Denzel's experience and savvy, and the two sleuths work tirelessly to connect a current serial murder case to the past one.  And then there's Jared Leto as the slimy, offputting prime suspect in the case, who somehow always seems one step ahead of the police.

As I mentioned, this film is set in the early 90s and feels like the type of thriller made during that era, a police procedural with flawed protagonists, tough moral choices, an oddly charismatic villain, etc.  After watching the film I learned it was in fact written in 1993, and Hancock offered it to Steven Spielberg to direct.  Spielberg found it too dark, and it passed through the hands of Clint Eastwood, Warren Beatty and Danny DeVito before being shelved.  A quarter-century later Hancock decided to direct it himself, and he does an admirable job of lending the proper dread-laced atmosphere and keeping the audience guessing whether or not the detectives are on the right track.  

The performances are first-rate as expected; with three Oscars between the three leads it's hard to go wrong.  Denzel is a haunted, disillusioned man who can't let go of the case that got away.  Malek is overbearing and arrogant at first, and then begins to realize he can learn a thing or two from his new mentor, while riding a dangerous ethical line in trying to crack the case.  Leto is somewhere between his gravel-voiced turn in Blade Runner 2049 and Kevin Spacey's supercreep in Se7en, only somewhat recognizable under a bit of prosthetics and dark contact lenses.  

Speaking of Se7en, that's where my gripes are with this film.  The original draft of the script may have predated David Fincher's oppressively bleak masterpiece, but this incarnation echoes that film a bit too much, along with Fincher's other crime procedural, Zodiac.  The aging African-American cop paired with the enthusiastic, blunt-talking young family man.  The degenerate weirdo who knows too much about the case and seems too eager to work with the police, the long car ride to who-knows-where, the struggle to tie evidence to the obvious suspect.  It's all very familiar territory and handled with less style and gravitas than Fincher.  While this movie kept my interest it also kept reminding me of other, superior films.

Still, the performances alone are worth giving this film a look.  It doesn't cover any ground we haven't seen before, but The Little Things is a capable, if underwhelming, thriller.

I give it **1/2 out of ****.

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