‘The Little Things’ plays little games with its audience

The Little Things (2021) - IMDb

The Little Things (2021)

Directed by John Lee Hancock

“The Little Things,” director John Lee Hancock’s (“Saving Mr. Banks“) flawed but noteworthy crime thriller, was the first of Warner Brothers’ films to release on HBO Max after the studio decided their entire 2021 slate would release there on the same day they released in theaters. The movie is noteworthy for being the first movie since 2018 to feature either Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, or Jared Leto in anything other than a voice-acting role (Rami Malek voiced a character in 2020’s “Dolittle”). It’s been more than two full years since we’ve seen any of these Oscar-winning actors on screen (longer for Jared Leto, assuming you didn’t see “The Outsider” and maybe hadn’t seen him since 2017’s “Blade Runner 2049”). And boy, did I miss them.

Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington), a veteran cop in upstate California, is called down to L.A. to look into a case with possible ties to an unsolved triple-homicide he had worked on years ago. A serial killer has murdered nearly half a dozen young women, tied their hands together, and put bags over their heads, posing them in similar positions. Two were bitten. One was force-fed before dying. It paints a nightmarish picture. Deacon and the lead detective on the case (Rami Malek) find a suspect in an anti-social repairman (Jared Leto), but they don’t have enough evidence to do anything about it.

How to watch Denzel Washington's new movie 'The Little Things' -  cleveland.com

Jared Leto doesn’t appear until at least halfway through, but he’s what I’ll remember when I think back on “The Little Things.” You shouldn’t be shocked to hear that Leto is absolutely terrifying in his role. He gave me the heebie jeebies. In 2016, he notoriously gifted his “Suicide Squad” castmates live rats when he was method acting as Joker. What did Rami Malek get on the set of “The Little Things”? A human toe? Jared Leto will star in my nightmares tonight. Malek does an admirable job, though at first it was hard to see him as a detective. He has the look of someone who shuns authority. Denzel Washington has definitely been better, even recently (two Oscar nominations in the last four years attest to that), but I can’t complain. His worst is better than most actors’ best.

“The Little Things” struggles to introduce the story, and I frequently felt confused and flustered by the lack of context the audience is given. Or maybe I just wasn’t following along closely enough. But when some of the questions are answered and Jared Leto’s character is introduced, the story picks up considerably. But then, as the movie progresses, we get “Se7en” vibes (HBO Max even listed the David Fincher thriller under “Movies Like This”), which sort of threw me. The movie also tossed in a couple of red herrings, but I actually liked that. The movie misdirected the audience, like a wily criminal might. It’s a fun movie for my fellow armchair detectives.

6.5/10

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