I admit it, I am fascinated by serial killers. I question why they do what they do, how their minds work to play out the details of their crimes, what sick satisfaction they get, especially when they torture and murder innocent people. I know experts have said it's having power over their victims that motivates them but it still intrigues me since I can't understand it. So when I found out that writer/director John Lee Hancock's (The Blind Side) latest film, The Little Things, was about two detectives trying to catch a serial killer, I was very interested in seeing it. To my surprise, even though the movie includes that aspect, it is about so much more than merely hunting down a murderer.
When Deputy Sheriff Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington; Training Day) is asked to head to his old stomping ground, Los Angeles, to pick up some evidence, he is reluctant to do so. Once there, he stops in to visit his old precinct but is greeted by a rather lukewarm reception. While there he meets the new hotshot detective, Jim Baxter (Rami Malek; Mr. Robot) who is currently trying to solve a few murders by a serial killer. Just as another victim is found, Deacon finds himself tagging along to the crime scene.
After reviewing all the evidence, Joe realizes there is more to this murder so he takes a few days' vacation, stays in Los Angeles, and decides to "unofficially" investigate while dredging up his own past demons. Tracking down a refrigerator repairman, Albert Sparma (Jared Leto; Suicide Squad), Deacon begins to follow him as Albert plays a game of cat and mouse with the police and Deacon. Baxter eventually starts pursuing Sparma as well and he and Deacon team up to try and catch the man they believe is guilty. However, when things go wrong Deacon helps Baxter cover up his mistake and Deacon gathers evidence to help ease Baxter's mind.
With three Oscar-winning actors playing the leads one would assume the film would be a slam dunk. However, this is a clear cut case of when even the most talented individuals can't save a mediocre screenplay. Don't get me wrong, Washington, Malek, and Leto are excellent in their roles and remind us why they have each earned Academy Awards but the plot plods along without fully forming a truly cohesive story, which leaves the viewer unsatisfied in the end.
While Hancock's script ends with a few plot twists and leaves the audience with more questions than answers, it simply is choppy and laden with subplots that are left unformed. Hancock also doesn't serve up much "thriller" in a movie that is considered to be a thriller/drama. There is a lack of suspense to the whole film that would normally keep one on the edge of their seat. Instead, we watch as Washington and Leto toy with one another as a predator might while stalking its less armed prey before it moves in for the kill. The only intriguing part about their "dance" is that at times you aren't really sure which one of them is the predator and which one is the prey.
The Little Things has some good moments, especially at the end, but the lack of character development and a myriad of subplots leaves the movie, and its cast, floundering as it tries to doggie paddle back to shore.
If you are looking for a movie that delves into the mind of a serial killer as the police hunt him down, this isn't that film. If you are looking for something that will leave you perplexed and somewhat unfulfilled, The Little Things will fit that bill. It is a shame that such amazingly talented men were working with only a half-formed story. I shudder to think how brilliant this movie might have been if only it had been edited and simplified.