Sometimes, it is hard to decide what to watch on Netflix/Amazon Prime/Disney – Hotstar etc. because there seem to be way too many choices but nothing that is really worth your while. So you are happy when a film like The Little Things comes along because Denzel Washington plays the lead. And if that were not enough, Rami Malek who was brilliant in Bohemian Rhapsody and Jared Leto (you hope he is chomping at the bit to make amends for his horrendous turn as the Joker) round out the trio of luminous Academy Award winners. Naturally, you have to watch the film and hope that your expectations aren’t doomed to damnation and it is not a criminal waste of time.
Unfortunately, The Little Things disappoints at every turn. Joe Deacon (Washington) who was a bit of a legend back in the day as an L.A cop is caught in a downward spiral after getting divorced from his wife, botching a major case and suffering a heart attack. Currently, he is out in the boondocks at a place called Bakersfield stuck in a dead end job for a man of his supposedly superior talents. But when a serial killer on the loose, is making merry and racking up a body count, Deacon finds himself in the thick of things. Naturally, he is haunted by his past and sees victims from his cases at his cheap lodgings. It has gotten to a point where it seems there is no lead character be it in a movie or series who is not weighed down by a horde of demons from the past.
Jim Baxter (Malek) meanwhile, is a star on the rise but though wary at first, he is drawn to Deacon whom he has very effectively replaced and they form a partnership. Before long, the duo zero in on the prime suspect, a creepy dude with the required crazy eyes and serial killer vibe named Albert (Leto). What follows is supposed to be a thrilling cat and mouse chase with applause worthy gravitas but it is largely a drab and dour snooze fest that goes nowhere.
The Director John Lee Hancock has trouble finding his footing from the get go. He seems intent on striking a self – important note, trying to prove that the material is above the usual stuff in this genre, offering something more substantial than the cheap thrills and guilty pleasures afforded by standard slasher fare by modeling it along the lines of Seven. However, the somberness and tacked on solemnity notwithstanding, the film is nowhere near as smart as it wants to be. Neither is it remotely satisfying since it lands with an ungainly thud in the no – man’s land between highbrow and trashy entertainment.
As for the triple threat match between the three Academy award winners, it is Denzel for the win. The man is incapable of turning in a lousy performance and were it not for him, this film would be unwatchable. He has a certain flair for elevating the most unpromising of material and making every frame he is in, shine. There is a scene where he is the recipient of an unexpected kiss from a sweet little girl and the unguarded tenderness and delight he effortlessly evinces convinces you that few actors can simply be in the moment and respond organically like a real person would the way he can.
Malek and Leto would do well to learn from the master. The former is so mannered it is painful to watch him and one shudders at the prospect of him taking up the challenge of playing an effective Bond villain. Leto’s exaggerated manner and desperation to prove that he is deserving of another Academy award is even more excruciating.
The trio plod to a problematic climax that would have raised a lot of disturbing questions about acceptable behavior from cops with compromised moral compasses had it been effective. But since it is a crash and burn, there is nothing to do but walk away from The Little Things without a backward glance and smack yourself on the head for not choosing better.
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