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March 5, 2021
Ithaca, NY | 26°F

Life & Culture

Review: Crime thriller lacks genuine suspense

The Little Things

Gran Via Productions

The well-trodden path of banal cop film after cop film continues in “The Little Things.” Director John Lee Hancock’s so-called crime thriller exists without an ounce of genuine suspense. It is instead stuffed with lackluster dialogue and a predictable plotline, which adds nothing to the slew of movies with its exact formula.

Stop reading if this sounds familiar: Veteran detective Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel Washington) teams up with newly instated head detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) to investigate a string of murders — all women — across different locations in California. Each of the murders has a clear pattern and style, and weeks of dead ends ripple through the police station. Deke and Jim are deeply invested for their separate reasons, though neither story is vibrant or inventive enough to give viewers a morsel worth rooting for.

Meaningless police jargon meets occasional moments of victory, quickly thwarted by clues that lead to nothing — much like the plot of “The Little Things” itself. Dramatic scenes, like the discovery of the first body, feel cheap and excusable, with graphic scenes that aren’t disquieting enough to scare audiences. Even their prime suspect, a red-eyed and greasy-haired Jared Leto, is only a weightless caricature of the loner-murderer complex that defines most true crime media. Why Leto’s distinctly underwhelming performance was then honored with a Golden Globe nomination is astounding. Perhaps it isn’t a surprise that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the group that selects the Golden Globe nominees, should choose mediocrity. It also nominated the uninspired “Emily in Paris” for Best Comedy Series.

Unlike director David Fincher’s “Se7en” — a freakish and valued film in the detective genre that gave disturbing light to the serial killer in question — “The Little Things” feels inconsequential at its worst and mildly intriguing at its best. In the end, viewers want answers, and hopefully the movie delivers. In the wake of its conclusion, “The Little Things” only offers more questions, and not all of them are worth the viewer’s attention.

Washington and Malek somewhat invigorate these tired, familiar characters. Though bogged down by the film’s passable screenplay, Washington in particular exudes his usual charm into Deke’s fatherly, affable demeanor. In serious moments, Washington’s performance creates intensity and suspense, two qualities rarely matched by the words or backstory he’s given. His backstory in particular is a weak addition that’s not as shocking as intended.

Malek’s Jim, aloof at first, softens with Deke’s mentorship. As expected, the outwardly opposite characters share some compelling traits. It’s clear that their mutual desire to solve these crimes comes from their wish to bring justice to the women who were murdered — and to prove themselves worthy of cracking a high-stakes case. Yet these brilliant performances under Malek’s and Washington’s belts cannot mask how transparently typical their characters are. “The Little Things” again displays what countless other films have proved — great actors cannot revitalize a sterile narrative.

Bold in its monotony and meandering in pace, “The Little Things” had the potential and starpower to be imaginative and engaging. The result is a forgettable, slack thriller that offers nothing exceptional to a genre begging for something new. 

Arleigh Rodgers can be reached at arodgers@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @arleighrodgers