John Lee Hancock’s The Little Things was apparently written in 1993 and there is indeed a retro vibe. This feels like it could have been in a VHS case taking up a whole shelf at Blockbuster. It might have starred Denzel Washington back then. Not everything has changed. Nearly three decades later, however, you can stream it away without having to remember to rewind.
Set in 1990, someone is killing young women in Los Angeles and those investigating haven’t moved past square one. Joe Deacon (played by Washington) is a former LAPD detective now doing deputy grunt work north of the city. When he has to make a trip to the City of Angels, he discovers the spree could be related to an unsolved series of killings that he never cracked. Newcomer Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek) is heading up the current investigation. For reasons never quite spelled out, he’s more than eager to allow Deacon to become his off the books partner. It’s hinted at early on that Deacon’s previous work left him unwelcome in the force and that lurks over the two hour plus runtime.
Their pairing leads to some dead ends until they happen upon Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), who seemingly fits the profile of the perp. Problem is, the aggressively weird suspect might just have a jones for the attention. He’s a true crime buff who appears thrilled sitting in the interrogation room with the iconic one way mirror. Deacon and Jimmy are the cats trying to catch this potential killer with the mousy hair for most of the second half. With Leto portraying him, he gives the character his bizarre all that is pretty humorous and compulsively watchable.
So many of these procedurals pose the question of whether all this grisly work by the detectives is worth the emotional strain it causes. In The Little Things, the answer is murkier and that provides some slightly intriguing twists. I don’t want to give it too much credit, but every little bit helps and so does the involvement of three Oscar winners.
Comparisons to Seven (basically the standard bearer of these types) are inevitable and there’s even a car ride with the killer (?) bearing the promise of a case cracking discovery. The Little Things is often boxed in with familiar story beats and some head into credibility straining territory. Isn’t that what most of those 90s era VHS selections did though? Perhaps I’m being too kind and I don’t envision rewinding Things anytime soon. Yet even with its flaws, Hancock’s delve into this genre is a reasonably rewarding throwback.
*** (out of four)