Film Review: The Little Things

DIRECTED BY: John Lee Hancock

STARRING: Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto, Chris Bauer, Michael Hyatt, Terry Kinney and Natalie Morales



Kern County Deputy Sheriff Joe Deacon is sent to Los Angeles for what should have been a quick evidence-gathering assignment. Instead, he becomes embroiled in the search for a serial killer who is terrorising the city.

Kern County Deputy Sheriff Joe “Deke” Deacon is sent to Los Angeles for what should have been a quick evidence-gathering assignment. Instead, he becomes embroiled in the search for a killer who is terrorising the city. Leading the hunt, L.A. Sheriff Department Sergeant Jim Baxter, impressed with Deke’s cop instincts, unofficially engages his help. But as they track the killer, Baxter is unaware that the investigation is dredging up echoes of Deke’s past, uncovering disturbing secrets that could threaten more than his case.

The Little Things is written and directed by John Lee Hancock, who had originally wrote the screenplay for the film almost thirty years ago after completing the crime drama A Perfect World, starring Clint Eastwood, in 1993. The film focuses on Kern County deputy sheriff Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon, who is sent to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in order to collect evidence related to a recent murder. Finding out that he has to wait longer than expected to collect it, he accompanies Jimmy Baxter, the lead detective in a potential serial killer case, to the scene of a new murder, which bears similarities to Deacon about an old serial killer case from his past that he was unable to solve when he was an L.A detective. Going against the advice of his captain, Baxter enlists Deacon’s help in the case, unaware that the case is bringing up ghosts of his past.


There was a certain level of anticipation leading up to seeing The Little Things, with veteran screenwriter John Lee Hancock having written and directed underrated films The Founder and The Highwaymen in the last number of years, and with him finally getting this passion project filmed and starring Denzel Washington and Rami Malek, I was certainly excited to see it. Arguably for having been originally written in the early 90’s, it would make sense to have it set during that period of time, serving as a noir throwback to similar films that came out during that period. While I initially expected the main plot of the film to focus on the hunt for the serial killer, in actuality it soon becomes evident that the primary focus is on Joe Deacon and his search for both redemption and necessity to exorcise the ghosts of his past. When he arrives in the Los Angeles and walks into the department building that he used to work in, most of his former colleagues (bar one played by the always good Chris Bauer) talk to him with such contempt that you wonder exactly what he had done that led to his life spectacularly collapsing, as Captain Carl Farris warns Baxter to stay away from him as the killer case consumed him to the point that he got suspended, divorced and a triple bypass in the span of six months. 


There are a few scenes here in the film that are executed quite well, such as the tension in the opening as a woman is stalked at night on a highway by a mysterious driver we assume is the serial killer. Another effective scene is the buildup to the brutality of the murder scene that Deacon and Baxter arrive at together, with the use of lighting well handled. With a runtime of over two hour longs, The Little Things does rely on the performances from its two leads, as well as a key supporting role, to keep you interested. Denzel Washington gives a really good performance as Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon, bring some gravitas to the role, while Rami Malek is fine as Jim Baxter, who can either be viewed as being naive or in over his house with such a high profile case (maybe a bit of both), and Jared Leto is also decent as Albert Sparma (though a rather one-note character), a greasy loner and prime suspect in the case who ticks all the boxes of being the killer, but is he really their guy? The main issue with the film however comes down to how it concludes the story in the final half hour and to say that I found it to be very unsatisfying would be an understatement. While thematically I understand what Hancock was going for, with Deacon observing how history is repeating itself as he sees Baxter’s obsession with the case consuming him the way it did to him in the past, it all just feels anti-climatic in how it is resolved and audiences will either find it ballsy or that it destroyed any goodwill the film had build for them up until the final act.  



With the exception of Denzel Washington’s performance and John Schwartzman’s cinematography, I found The Little Things to be lacklustre.