LA’s crime scene is well-represented in Hollywood, with countless movies feeding on the public’s want to consume horrific crime stories. John Lee Hancock, known for “The Blind Side” and “Saving Mr. Banks,” directs “The Little Things,” which aims to take on the niche topic and is available in theaters and to stream as part of the HBO Max and Warner Bros plan to release movies in both ways for 2021. The thriller, however, falls short of being the cinematic experience it wanted to be.
“The Little Things” has a promising start, with the suspenseful beginning pulling the watcher into the screen and leaving them wanting to know more. A girl drives while singing along to “Roam” by the B-52’s, and another car comes into frame. As the tension builds, the music fades away. There is a long, dark road, and the movie forces attention onto the cars. The character has a close call with who seems to be a villain, and after this glimpse into the mystery, the title sequence appears. From there, the movie goes downhill.
Hancock’s technical choices and elements felt forced. After the opening sequence, all of the shots, even those visibly intended to be slow-burning, were cut short. For a two-hour and seven-minute movie, Hancock had the creative freedom to incorporate both slower, suspenseful moments and action bits. Instead, he failed to juggle both. Well-shot frames went by too fast, making the movie, despite its length, feel rushed. Hancock’s ambition is evident; however, he simply took on too much.
The actors attempted to make up for the flaws; however, their work only pointed toward the holes in the story.
The movie attempts to incorporate countless stories and tropes, and as a result of poor execution, was unable to successfully pull off any of them. It has the classic detective partnership, starring Denzel Washington and Rami Malek. The movie also sports the mentor-mentee relationship trope where both are supposed to learn from each other, but this side story was poorly developed and set up to be so from the start.
In the beginning, Washington, an old member of the police station, and Malek, playing an egoistic and reputed cop, disliked each other the moment they met. Right after, however, Malek offers Washington a ride to the crime scene. They both get in the car, and the movie cuts to them reaching their destination. This hole in time is one of many flaws in character development. The conversations and interactions, or lack thereof, they had in the car would have provided a platform from which their personal relationship would form more obviously. “The Little Things” attempts, but fails, to recreate what “Dirty Harry” did 50 years ago. A similar mentor-mentee partnership exists in “Dirty Harry,” and one of the ways the audience sees their relationship is through moments outside the crime scene. With the time the movie had, it was surprising so much was spent on basic plot parts. The actors attempted to make up for the flaws; however, their work only pointed toward the holes in the story.
As the main character who is supposed to carry years of responsibility in his holster, Washington’s performance instead feels washed out. The cop is shown to be lost and undermined in the screenplay, but as the story progresses, it is clear the character is in the wrong. There are parts where Washington tried to show this, as Malek’s character gets told about Washington’s history. However, the movie started to embrace the reality of the character too late, and the trait ended up underdeveloped. Though Malek plays his part well, it is not enough to make up for the other shortcomings.
The real star of this movie is Jared Leto. His character Sparma is the best executed, even if the writer did not write it to be as such. Leto deserved more screen time, and his work is the only reason the crime plot of the movie even functioned. His motive and craze were clear and perfectly depicted. Washington and Malek were not able to do the same. It’s no surprise he earned a Golden Globes nomination for this role. Leto’s character embraced subtle development throughout the movie, and, despite the obvious resolution, he is the reason the movie is even semi-cohesive.
“The Little Things” attempts, but fails, to recreate what “Dirty Harry” did 50 years ago.
Every single character was given some sort of motive; however, these character traits quickly became confusing and were what brought the movie down the most. Both characters are shown to have daughters, and from that, there seems to be a parental need to protect the girls that are being targeted as if they were protecting their own. It’s overemphasized to the point that it becomes appalling. Washington randomly looks and smiles with concern at girls in cars, referring to the idea of protecting them. Yet, later he says he is doing this for himself, where the movie then brings in a subplot about his past. His motives aren’t nuanced; they’re just overburdened. It’s too much for the character, and instead of making him out to be complex, it just leaves the audience confused and wanting more time to understand the character. But, right when these new aspects are introduced, the movie begins its descend.
The ending of “The Little Things” doesn’t resolve anything except for the crime; rather, it brings up even more topics into the mix. Suddenly there is a distrust in the police system and the idea of justice itself, topics which old LA crime movies like “Dirty Harry” engaged with as well. Here, however, it’s done poorly, complicating the plot and adding more to the already ambitious story. These added concepts of duty and morality clouded the already struggling themes of the movie. With the option to stream “The Little Things” as well, Hancock was able to make the movie a bit longer than would be usual, as seen in Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” which was recently acclaimed for the creativity with the length of the movie. But, in trying to pull off the same feat as Scorsese, remaking a movie style from the past century and devoting more time to characters, Hancock instead created a movie that leaves loose ends and is unable to imitate the Hollywood crime classic for the audience.
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