Published On January 28, 2021 | By Matt Neufeld | FILM REVIEWS

By Matt Neufeld
​Starring Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto, Natalie Morales
Written and directed by John Lee Hancock
Produced by Mark Johnson and John Lee Hancock
Cinematography by John Schwartzman
Edited by Robert Frazen
Music by Thomas Newman

“It’s the little things,” a character keeps intoning and emphasizing throughout the horrendously disappointing, distressing, confounding, bleak, overly-dark and overly-depressing “The Little Things,” a wholly downer of a police procedural crime mystery. Alas, it’s that bit of scripted, story advice that the movie’s real-life creators, most notably writer, director and co-producer John Lee Hancock, completely failed to listen to in terms of making the respective film. “The Little Things” flat-out fails on all levels–production, direction, timing, pacing, editing, story development, character development, plotting and, most notably, writing. The film’s overall story, plot, characterizations, dialogue and story and characters arcs are all substandard, incomplete, unfinished, dangling, confusing, cliched, unoriginal, and even unclear, baffling and lacking in much-needed explanation and clarity.

In the end, which can’t come soon enough, the film’s only major mystery is how the movie got green-lit and produced in the first place.

Too mean? Not really, when you consider just how truly cliched and unoriginal the proceedings are, and how everyone involved–Hancock, co-producer Mark Johnson and the major lead actors, Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto–just plain should have known better than to proceed beyond the initial table readings. Sometimes, movies just come along that have that mystery at their real-life core–just how on earth did anyone think this was a good idea, how did such talented people fall into this trap, who thought this was a good script, even at that initial table reading, and why on earth did Hancock even write this or produce this? Along with the movie’s many failings, confusing aspects and disappointments, its subject matter and timing could not be worse: “The Little Things” centers around at least four–and possibly more–corrupt, dirty, murderous cops with barely any likeable, caring, kind or attractive personality traits who conspire to cover up at least two nightmarish cop murders–and get away with it, without any legal or judicial consequences.

Great, guys–that’s a great idea for a feature film in early 2021, amid continuing civic, civil, community, political, governmental, societal, social and cultural protests against illegal, corrupt police murders, police brutality, police excessive force, police cover-ups, police racism and anti-Semitism, and even police involvement in an illegal, corrupt, criminal–and murderous–traitorous and psycho insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. That’s an illegal, corrupt, criminal insurrection in which numerous bad police officers openly participated in attacking, ransacking and vandalizing the Capitol building, and an insurrection in which numerous good police officers were concurrently beaten, attacked and injured by those same mobs–mobs that, again, so it’s clear, contained actual, real-life police officers.

And, again, all of this insanity and criminality at the Capitol followed a stressed-out year in which numerous illegal police murders, shootings, beatings and police incidents of brutality and excessive force were protested by thousands of people nationwide, with many of those protests, demonstrations and rallies ending in violence, beatings, vandalism, destruction, rioting and looting.

So just what wayward, confused studio and production suits thought that January of 2021 was a good time to release a plodding, cliched, dark, depressing movie about corrupt, criminal and murderous cops who cover up at least two cop murders–with zero charges, trials, guilty pleas, arrests or retribution for their crimes and cover-ups? Just who on earth thought this was a good idea? Now do you see the mystery?

If the story of “The Little Things” more clearly showed a subsequent charging, arrest, trial and jailing of the corrupt cops on murder and cover-up charges, and had a real, likeable and honest protagonist (a character that does not appear in this movie, to the film’s detriment) celebrate those arrests and jailings, well, perhaps the movie could have been a bit more clear about imparting a real theme, moral, message and point. However, as noted, the cops go free–again, for no clear reason. The movie presents, basically, a bunch of dirty cops who seem more interested in covering up their crimes and remaining free than real justice, and then having those cops just go about their business as if nothing had happened. The movie just simply does not plainly, intelligently present any semblance of a message that crime doesn’t pay. If anything–and, yes, this makes zero sense–the movie seems to suggest that it’s okay for crime to pay off if you go free in the end.

One then thinks, oh, well, Hancock is obviously not doing that, and he is trying to present the message that there are dirty cops and, psychologically and mentally and socially and career-wise, they do end up paying for their misdeeds, through suffering and mental breakdowns? You would hope that is what Hancock is trying to do–but if that is his intention, that intention doesn’t come through clearly and plainly in the final film. Any possible messages that could possibly suggest that crime and murder and covering up crimes do not pay and those who commit such crimes will pay mentally for the rest of their lives–well, again, they are just not presented clearly, plainly and intelligently enough in the final film. It’s one of those movies where the viewer can see what the filmmakers maybe perhaps possibly were trying to do–but that intent is just not there in the end. Thus, that’s how this movie–and many others, of course–end up confusing, baffling and disjointed.

“The Little Things” also squanders the talents of three leading actors who have been awarded and lauded in the recent past for their considerably talented work. Denzel Washington, of course, has turned in some memorable performances, but, yes, he’s also sleepwalked through some clunkers–as has every actor on the planet, to be fair. However, Washington is at a stage of his career where he simply doesn’t have to take any more of these cliched, unoriginal, cookie-cutter cop crime procedural mystery serial killings whodunit roles. Jared Leto is currently one of those obviously talented actors who either can’t adequately choose decent roles for himself, or isn’t interesting in choosing decent roles. With recent films, he’s shown a tendency to over-act, over-emote and over-everything. But we, and he, knows he’s better than that. Leto needs to choose some straight-ahead dramatic roles where he can adequately display the thespian talent that he possesses. And Rami Malek also needs to take some additional straight-ahead dramatic roles–he, too, is incredibly talented. Alas, all three actors turn in bafflingly disappointing, below-par performances in “The Little Things.” And while the script and story are largely to blame, it appears that somehow Washington, Leto and Malek continually missed their acting marks during the production of this film, either through confusion, indifference, laziness or perhaps just plain bad direction.

Whatever happened, Washington, Leto and Malek had the opportunity to lift up this film with some strong performances, but those performances are just not there. Washington–who seems to play a character-sequel to the same washed-out, weary, tired, chagrined and maligned disgraced cop that he played similarly in Spike Lee’s excellent film “Inside Man” from 2006–appears not just character-tired in the movie, but real-life tired, too. His cop Joe “Deke” Deacon, a Kern County, Calif., Deputy Sheriff is, yes, supposed to be world-weary, tired and washed-up. However, Washington plays this character so flatly, so depressingly, there’s little room for any sense of humanity, humor, humility or humbleness–all of which were needed. And Deacon is so unlikeable, the viewer ends up not really caring much about him. Malek’s hot-shot young Los Angeles Police Department detective Jim Baxter is supposed to be cool, crisp, clean, up-and-coming and brilliant. However, as Malek plays him, he doesn’t come across as any of those things. Baxter instead is presented as just a spoiled, arrogant jerk fumbling his way around a series of distressing serial killings of young women that he can’t being to deal with, work on or even solve. That’s not too likeable either, and viewers end up not liking his character, either. And Leto, as noted, is supposed to be playing a creepy, mysterious, oddball eccentric who may–or may not be–the serial killer. However, Leto’s portrayal of Albert Sparma is so over-the-top, it becomes caricature–exactly what the performance should not have devolved into. Thus, the viewer not only doesn’t care about Sparma, either, but the character is presented as so unsettlingly weird and grotesque, Sparma’s not even that much fun to watch on screen.

Thus, a modern-day movie somehow misfires in utilizing three of the best movie actors working today.

On top of that, the entire film completely falls apart in the last twenty minutes, wholly devolving into an utterly baffling, unsatisfying morass of muddling madness that incredibly tears apart and destroys everything that came before this third act. The film needed a completely different third act, but it’s still possible that even a different, re-written third act could not have saved the previous first and second acts. All of the film’s acts needed a re-write.

And the number of cliches is baffling. The cliches start piling up in literally the opening scene, which shows a pretty young girl driving a car on a lonely, darkened road, by herself, singing along to a song on the car radio, tapping the wheel, while a car seems to be following her in the background–yes, just like the photocopied scene that already appeared in “The Silence of the Lambs” in 1991–35 years ago–and just like scenes just like these two that have appeared in about one-thousand other horror, suspense, crime and mystery movies. Then there’s the very basic idea of the tired, world-weary, disgraced cop who is battling something, is stressed-out about something, is divorced, is hiding from the world, who lives alone in the country with his faithful dog, who seems to be hiding something, who…well, is there any point in going on? From Mel Gibson’s crazy cop in the over-done “Lethal Weapon” movies to Nick Nolte’s tired cop in “48 Hours” to the same tired, stressed-out cop in a thousand other movies–we’ve seen this, and we’ve over-seen this about a thousand too many times. Then there’s the pairing of said world-weary, grizzled, veteran cop with the young, hot-shot cop–yes, we’ve seen this a thousand too many times. Then there’s the broken relationship that the tired, world-weary cop has with either the disgruntled ex-wife or the disgruntled ex-girlfriend, all full of rambling, awkward dialogue, weird fights, lingering tension and stress, complaints about being a bad father and not calling the kids–really, do we need to go on with that one, too? Then there’s the very plain aspect of the creepy, eccentric person who could be, or could not be, the serial killer, and the cops’ often-illegal, often-abusive cat-and-mouse game with the suspect. Sigh. We’ve seen this rodeo, too.

In fact, we’ve seen most of “The Little Things” all too often and all too familiarly, in cop murder mystery movie after cop murder mystery movie after cop murder mystery movie.

Often, it’s the little things that matter, yes–like originality, creativity, newness, freshness and innovativeness.

So more producers, directors, writers and actors need to pay attention to these little things. And then they need to stop what they’re doing, take off their coat and vest, sit down at that familiar all-night ​​diner–you know, that neon-lit one right down the street, on the corner there–smile and flirt with that cute waitress who doesn’t seem to belong at the diner, pour that cup of bad coffee into that plain white coffee mug, sit uneasily for a while, fiddle with your straw or fork or spoon nervously, stare out the window in a perplexed ponder stance, stare coldly at that grimy, dirty, corrupt, world-weary world out there–and promptly promise to the world that you won’t write, direct, act in and produce any more of these overly-cliched, unoriginal, rote, familiar, cookie-cutter and by-the-book police cop crime procedural murder mystery serial-killer-or other-type-of criminal-behavior noirish bleak depressing despondent movies.

Then get up, randomly throw a few wrinkled dollar bills and scattered change on the table, take one last quick swig of coffee, say goodnight to the cute waitress hunched over the counter reading tomorrow morning’s newspaper, grimace, shrug, sigh, put your vest and coat back on, and head on out back into the real world–remembering, of course, to utilize in the future those little things like innovativeness, creativity, newness and originality.


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