The Little Things (2020) ☆☆(2/4): A mediocre police procedural with wasted talents

“The Little Things” is a bland and trite police procedural which disappoints us a lot because of several reasons. While it is mostly slick and competent on the surface, its story is another run-of-the-mill noir drama about flawed detective heroes, and its characters do not have much depth to hold our attention despite the efforts from its three distinguished main cast members who certainly deserve better than this in my inconsequential opinion.

After the chilling opening scene involved with a young woman who suddenly finds herself in a terrifying situation in the middle of one night, the movie, which is incidentally set in California, 1990, introduces us to Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel Washington), a middle-aged man who has worked as a Deputy Sheriff of Kern County. On one day, Deacon is ordered to go to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and then retrieve some important police evidence from there, and that looks like a simple job to be done within a day, but then he finds himself staying longer than expected in the Los Angeles County due to a minor procedural problem.

As Deacon meets his several old colleagues who are still working in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, we gradually get to gather that he was once one of the most brilliant cops working there. Not so surprisingly, he is later taken to a recently discovered crime scene where he may give some useful insight or observation, and he surely shows others that he is still a good detective who can notice little things to help solving the case, which is incidentally the brutal and bloody murder of a young woman who lived alone in her apartment,

Looking around the crime scene, Deacon comes to notice that there are considerable similarities between this murder case and an old unsolved one which has haunted his mind for years as reflected by occasional flashback shot shots. As a matter of fact, this murder case may be the latest strike from a mysterious serial killer who has terrorized the county during last several months, and Deacon is convinced that this serial killer is the suspect he tried but eventually failed to find at that time.

Although that failure of his led to bitter outcomes in his life as well as his career, Deacon becomes determined to find and then catch the killer who is still out there, and we see how he works on that personal task step by step. Once he gets a small clue which looks rather inconsequential but may be quite crucial, he promptly follows that clue, and that eventually leads him to the discovery of a possible prime suspect.

In the meantime, the movie also focuses on Detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), a young cop who has been in the charge of the investigation of the ongoing serial murder. Although he initially does not welcome much Deacon, Baxter gradually comes to appreciate the extra help from Deacon, and he even invites Deacon to his family home for a little early breakfast. When another young woman is gone missing, Baxter is more pressured than before as also coming to care more about the case, and he becomes more willing to examine that possible prime suspect found by Deacon.

However, director/writer/co-producer John Lee Hancock’s screenplay begins to falter around the narrative point where that prime suspect in question enters the picture as required. As Deacon and Baxter try to find any concrete evidence to arrest their prime suspect, the prime suspect, who looks quite suspicious to say the least, seems to be enjoying all the attentions from Deacon and Baxter, and what follows next is a predictable cat-and-mouse game between them and their prime suspect. While there are several suspenseful moments, there is much surprise for us as they are handled in rote and contrived ways, and we are not so surprised even when we later come to learn more of why Deacon is so haunted by his old case.

Even though their characters are more or less than mere plot elements, the three main cast members of the movie try as much as they can do for filling their respective roles. Ably embodying his character’s dogged determination, Denzel Washington did an admirable job of conveying to us his character’s darkness, and I like how he brings some nuances to a certain small but crucial scene between his character and a supporting character who was deeply involved in handling his old case. While he is stuck in a thankless counterpart role to complement Washington’s character, Rami Malek is convincing in the gradual accumulation of anger and frustration inside his character, and it is a shame that the movie does not utilize his talent more. As the prime suspect in the story, Jared Leto, who was inexplicably nominated for this movie by the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild several weeks ago, looks as sleazy and creepy as demanded, but there is really nothing he can do besides that, and, to be frank with you, he frequently tries too much for covering that.

Overall, “The Little Things” does not impress me much due to its weak storytelling and thin characterization, and my mind keeps going back to a number of better movies such as David Fincher’s “Se7en” (1995) and “Zodiac” (2007), which are still around the top of their genre field even after many years since they respectively came out. Compared to these two excellent films, “The Little Things” is merely little and insignificant, and I assure you that you do not have to bother at all.

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