‘The Little Things’ Feels Outdated and Out of Touch

The Little Things is a crime drama that feels outdated, but what’s most troubling is that it is boring. John Lee Hancock wrote the first draft in 1993 and seems to have not given it another look since. A lot of time has passed, and the crime thriller genre has evolved.

Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto star in what’s being called a “new” neo-noir crime thriller. Despite the immense star power on screen and Leto, this film lacks the aesthetic panache of a neo-noir and is not entirely thrilling. There is no shortage of crime thrillers that focus on the investigative side of crimes or the immoral agenda of the heinous perpetrators, however, there is a shortage of engaging ones.

Denzel Washington as Deke in 'The Little Things'. Dressed a county deputy leaning over a female corpse in a police department morgue. Deke has a sorrowful expression on his face as he gazes upon the victims face.
Warner Bros/HBO Max

The Little Things follows John “Deke” Deacon (Washington), a disgraced former detective turned deputy who stumbles upon a case similar to one he attempted to solve some years ago. His efforts on the case led to a string of medical crises, a divorce, and eventually alienation from his department. Much of this is blamed on some personality defect, but the truth is unveiled later on in the film. He runs into young hotshot Jim “Jimmy” Baxter (Malek), who takes a liking to Deacon and invites him to tag along on his investigation. From there the two are on the hunt for a ruthless killer and all signs point to the greasy, beer-bellied Leto.


The film has an air about it that suggests it is prestigious, worthy of critical acclaim and awards buzz, and based on the publicity push by Warner Bros., they believe their hype. Long before any critical consensus of the film was released, there was a push to have the film featured on platforms usually reserved for Oscar-contenders. The sad thing is,The Little Things is just a whole lot of squandered potential.

Rami Malek, Jared Leto and Denzel Washington as Jimmy, Sparma, Deke. Jimmy and Deke corner Sparma in a police interrogation room.
Warner Bros/HBO Max

Very little is done to peel back the layers that make Deacon who he is or explain his obsession with the case. The film leaves too much for a third act reveal and for the benefit of restrained and subtle filmmaking. However, restraint and subtly should not come at expense of character development and narrative intrigue. Deacon’s lack of development reveals how little Malek’s Jimmy has to offer to the story. His development is stunted and all that we know is that he is doing a piss poor job as the lead detective on the case. The two leads have no chemistry, no compelling personality traits or characteristics, and are poor imitations of better detective pairings from other popular crime thrillers. Without compelling leads, the burden of interest lies with the supporting cast. However, our suspect or potential red herring, Albert Sparma (Leto), also fails to bring anything to the table. Leto is held back for much of the film, and he lets his dishevelled appearance do much of the “acting” for him. While there is no doubt that Washington is a genius in his craft, his screen partners are left in the dust and that’s mostly due to poor writing.

A lot is left untouched and unexplored which exposes the comical dialogue, the poor character development, and the trope-y crime. Much of the film hinges upon one’s awareness of prior crime thrillers and relying on remembering what is usually the procedure with this genre. However, as a creative you can’t rely on hinting at greatness to be considered great, the film needs to stand on its own. Every facet of what makes a compelling crime drama is abandoned. What we are left with is a meek imitation of better crime thrillers that give you more to think on and feel.

The Little Things premiered on HBO Max and in select theatres on January 29th. 

Ferdosa (she/her) is a lifetime student of cinema. Three of her current favourite films are: Addams Family Values, Cinderella (2015), and Emma. (2020)On Twitter you can see her support women-led cinema, her ongoing love/hate relationship with Disney, her totally healthy obsession with Eva Green, and her great admiration for Guillermo del Toro.

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