Method acting is bullshit, and all method actors are dicks. Sorry to be blunt, but tact died with the phrase “President Donald Trump.” Jared Leto, who looks like what lots of white people wish Jesus looked like but didn’t, apparently didn’t try any of his Suicide Squad method-acting antics on the set of The Little Things. That’s because Denzel Washington would have messed him up. That’s not a guess, that is a specific statement made by Denzel Washington.
Anyway, whatever nonsense approach he used, Leto’s performance in this 90s-set, dudes-only serial killer movie perfectly encapsulates the film itself: Both confuse boring slowness with importance, and both will leave you asking what the hell that was and why you let it happen to you.
Washington plays Joe Deacon, a former hot-shot detective man who was demoted far enough that his job now is investigating who broke the “G” in the Black Angus restaurant’s neon sign. A plot contrivance forces him back to his old turf, where young hot-shot detective man Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) is trying to solve a series of ghastly murders. As you could guess about any movie in which detectives Joe and Jim try to catch a killer, all the victims are mutilated women. Speaking of gross, unnecessary, and problematic things…
Jared Leto plays Albert Sparma, a local handyman who walks like he has a mechanical bull where his couch should be. He’s supposed to be as smart as Joe ‘n Jim but also talks as though he is constantly slowly gargling marbles. This, according to Leto, is “acting.” What follows is a classic “cat and mouse thriller,” in that bored mammals place something gross they hacked up at our feet.
If you squint, you can see how writer/director John Lee Hancock bamboozled talent like Washington and Malek into tackling this inert crud. In a better world, one where the phrase “Academy Award winner Jared Leto” isn’t a thing, this could have been something like Unforgiven with homicide detectives. Instead, it sullenly lumbers to an unearned ambiguous ending that you will never, ever think about enough to form a valid opinion because “oh my God, who cares?”
Washington is on autopilot here, which is fine because he sleepwalks with more gravitas and charisma than The Little Things deserves. Setting aside Jared Leto, which should be a reminder to everyone that is a choice that can be made, Malik’s problem is that the script never made a choice on who he is. Is he a true-hearted family man about to be broken by the brutality of his job or a cocky turd whose inevitable comeuppance is the cost of his hubris? Malik tries to do something, but no matter how much whipped cream you put on mud, it still isn’t chocolate mousse.
The Little Things is the worst kind of just-below-average movie: It gets worse the more you think about it, more frustrating the more you explain it to others, and more depressing the more you remember Jared Leto. Seek crime drama fulfilment anywhere else, outside of actual murder.
Grade = C-
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Angie Han at Mashable says “That lack of imagination extends to the rest of the film as well. The Little Things looks exactly as you’d expect a star-studded crime drama to look (lots of shadows, sickly fluorescent lights inside and harsh street lights outside), and sound exactly as you’d expect it to sound (lots of hard-boiled dialogue about Deke and Baxter’s pessimistic worldview). A few religious references hint at some deeper thematic reckoning that never comes, while super-literal soundtrack choices — “I Will Follow Him” when the cops are following a suspect, for example — offer diminishing returns as the film’s only joke.”
Valerie Complex at Consequence of Sound says “It’s even harder to pin down what theme The Little Things is trying to address. The film ends with the viewer still having no information about who anyone is or their motivations. Instead, they mostly wander through the narrative aimlessly, spouting diatribes about ethics but making up the rules as they go. Consistency is hard to find in this cinematic purgatory, where the viewer has to watch characters wait for something to happen. Painfully.”
Kimberly Elizabeth at Nightmare on Film Street says “The Little Things, a special handshake drop from Warner Bros. and HBO MAX (cuz pandemic), seeks to take us back to that simpler time. A time when cops had complete disregard for the limitations of the law, bad guys sported androgynous haircuts too greasy to actually be called androgynous, female roles were limited to wives and girlfriends, and every single cop ever had a ‘one that got away’ tucked in their back pocket.”