By Caleb Gierke
John Lee Hancock’s The Little Things desperately wants to be David Fincher’s Se7en, but fails to measure up in just about every way. Both are crime thrillers about serial killers with a murky atmosphere. The Little Things inhabits a world that is a little cleaner, but it also smooths over the grime that makes Se7en so interesting and tough to watch. Both films are not lacking in star power with their titular tag teams, but the enthusiasm in the leads can be felt. My most recent Rami Malek work was in Mr. Robot, so perhaps I am a bit biased against his performance in this, but it felt strange. Elliot Alderson is a very fascinating and multidimensional character that is very flawed and while Jimmy is a flawed character, he is far too straightlaced to fit the character type I associate Rami Malek with.
Jimmy Baxter is a good God-fearing cop, but he’s bright eyed and bushy tailed. He wants to crack the big serial killer case in town and gets more and more invested as he thinks he has found the culprit. Denzel Washington’s character Joe Deacon, otherwise known as Deke certainly doesn’t help keep Jimmy from going off the deep end. Deke is struggling with ghosts of his own and that underscores just about all of Washington’s performance. Denzel Washington does give a pretty good performance as Deke, but his character never really struck me in any meaningful way. He is haunted by his past, but it never feels like that goes anywhere. Plot and character beats not going anywhere is a common theme of the film though.
The Little Things introduces a bunch of motifs that it dances around, but never really says anything meaningful about. There is an undercurrent of how religion plays into the case as there are multiple moments where faith is remarked upon by characters. However, this doesn’t seem to go anywhere beyond just being passing conversations or the line about not having angels, which I had a hard time wrapping my head around what it meant. The serial killer aspect of the film exists in the background for the entirety of the film, but once Jared Leto’s character Albert Sparma comes into play it takes a back seat. The film then becomes laser focused on Sparma who tries to fill the role of the various potential Zodiac Killers in David Fincher’s other crime thriller Zodiac. Leto’s performance is the standout of the film, but even the creepy and very uncomfortable Sparma is enough to save The Little Things from dragging on for a bit too long.
The minute difference in runtime between Se7en and The Little Things shows just how different my attention was held. Se7en keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time, while The Little Things feels more like a stakeout. And as Deke remarks, a stakeout is waiting until you finally get something good.
This isn’t to say The Little Things is bad, it is a fairly enjoyable experience even if there are numerous better options for a similar type of film. The score of the film really helps set the atmosphere and if you like the style of films like Se7en and Zodiac, this is another entry in the subgenre of serial killer crime thrillers. But if you want my honest recommendation, just watch those films instead. You will save a whole minute of time watching Se7en and you won’t feel like you are on a stakeout for two hours. Instead, you’ll feel like you are trying to solve the case alongside the leads.
The Little Things is streaming on HBO Max until February 28th and then it will be exclusively in theaters. Se7en is also streaming on HBO Max. Zodiac is streaming on Prime Video. For a crime thriller with an entirely different atmosphere, Knives Out is streaming on Prime Video. For a foreign film in a similar vein there is Bong Joon-Ho’s Memories of Murder, which is available to rent from most places you can rent films. For other films by John Lee Hancock, The Blind Side is also streaming on HBO Max.