Remember the little girl who starred opposite Julie Andrews for two of The Wonderful World of Disney’s made-for-TV movies, Eloise at the Plaza and Eloise at Christmastime? Well, that girl is all grown up and has gotten herself into some trouble in Warner Bros.’ psychological crime thriller, The Little Things. Sofia Vassilieva opens the movie as Tina Salvatore who is minding her own business driving down a barren highway when she discovers that she is being stalked. It’s an intense scene and she plays it well, even if you find yourself scratching your head questioning some of her choices during the encounter. It’s just the beginning of this odd movie that is really good…until it isn’t.
The Little Things stars Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto. With this trio of Oscar-winning actors, what could go wrong? Unfortunately, it’s the script. The story was written and directed by John Lee Hancock who is known for directing such popular movies as The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks and The Founder. Little Things is probably his darkest work yet. Hancock wrote the screenplay for this film back in the 1990’s where is sat on the shelf waiting for someone to pick it up. Many years later, he finally decided he was the man for the job. The 2021 film’s storyline is still set in the 1990’s even though it doesn’t look like it except for the fact that nobody is walking around with a cell phone in their hand.
At just over two hours, Little Things is a bit sluggish, but is able to keep your attention due to its slow burn of mystery story-telling. Along the way, some of the characters make some unbelievable choices but It’s the lack of a satisfyingly payoff at the end that ruins it all.
After’s Tina’s ordeal in the beginning of the film, the movie shifts to Joe Dean (Washington), a former L.A. cop now working in a much smaller capacity in Bakersfield, California. He is tasked with driving to back to his former workspace as a favor for his boss to get some evidence. It turns out that it’s going to take some time and he’ll need to stick around for a day before heading back home. While at the office, it becomes clear that some of his former colleagues want to keep their distance. It has to do with Dean’s former case which took a huge emotional toll on him and his family, but little more information is given at this point.
This is also where he meets Jim Baxter (Malek), a hot-shot police detective with a huge ego. At first he judges the older cop and refers to his as “Columbo” and “Kojak,” but for some reason, he becomes impressed with him and invites Joe to investigate the latest in a string of serial murders all which involve young women. They have similarities to Joe’s former case and so of course he is interested. Eventually, a man who has a fascination with crime and perhaps a bigger fascination with tormenting police officers, is under suspicion. With no evidence to hold Albert Sparma (Leto), the pair do what they can to prove he is their man.
All three main leads are as good as you expect them to be with Leto being equally funny and creepy, but again, it’s the story that is a let down. At times, the film spoon-feeds details to the viewers while at others, information that could help make some sense to the story is left out. At times, the characters make what seem to be illogical choices without any any legitimate justification. For at least two-thirds of the movie, Jim doesn’t seem to be fazed about these crimes and then he gets rattled for no apparent reason. It’s as if more film footage that was shot initially but was left behind for the final product. Side characters like Jim’s wife Ana (Isabel Arraiza), coroner Flo Dunigan (Michael Hyatt) and Jim’s actual everyday partner, Detective Jamie Estrada (Natalie Morales) don’t get much screen time, but would have added a lot more to the story if they did.
On the plus side, Little Things feels and even resembles older movies that keeps you guessing. As mentioned, it is its less-than-satisfying ending that is disappointing. But even worse its non-committal “message”. Numerous religious symbols and references are made throughout the movie, but they don’t seem to actually serve a purpose after all. Joe mentions numerous time how the “little things” or details are really important, but little to no evidence for this is shown. And finally, when the credits roll, you are left to wonder, “So, what was the point of all of this?”
(Main image: Warner Bros.)
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.