The Little Things was another cinematic victim of the Coronavirus, with HBO Max keeping it for their overpriced streaming service in the U.S. and the UK being offered it as a premium video on demand. Despite my interest, I didn’t feel like forking-out £15.99 for it, but then again, I wouldn’t pay 15 quid for any film unless I get to keep a copy. Given its high price-point and streaming exclusivity, when it was initially released, the only people who aired their views were mainstream critics, and they all seemed to hate it. I recall Mark Kermode speaking disparagingly about this flick on his BBC News Film Review programme, like it was the worst film he’d seen that week (and that’s coming from someone who really enjoyed the appalling Military Wives). Upon seeing the 45% score on Rotten Tomatoes today, I had to write about it. After watching The Little Things, I have to say it’s one of the most underrated films of 2021, and given that a handful of utterly dreary and overrated films scooped all the Oscars this year, I have no idea why a decent movie like this is so undervalued.
All the usual excuses came to the fore when critics bashed this movie. Like Greta, apparently film-makers can’t make certain genres any more because they’re “old”. Everything has to be an issue-based drama or a hollow superhero blockbuster. Empire magazine called this film a “throwback thriller” which means they didn’t watch the frigging thing. The Little Things isn’t trying to be a thriller; the sedate pace alone should have been a clue. Then there were all the extremely lazy comparisons to David Fincher’s Se7en. I have no idea why; apart from a single scene in a desolate sandy location, this wasn’t at all like Se7en or for that matter The Silence Of The Lambs. The Little Things is closer in tone and content to Sidney Lumet’s The Offence or City Of Lies or the third series of True Detective; it’s about investigation, corruption, responsibility, the falsification of evidence, and an unsolved case haunting someone. Not every film about murder has to be jump-cuts, grime and gore. Sometimes you need time for contemplation.
In case you don’t know, The Little Things is a crime drama about Joe and Jim, a disgraced ex-detective and a hotshot up-and-coming detective (played by Denzel Washington and Rami Malek respectively) working the same serial killer case. After the pair cross paths during a press conference, and again during a fresh crime scene, they both begin to suspect Albert (played by Jared Leto) but are all the clues pointing in the right direction? This movie is worth watching for Rami Malek, Denzel Washington, and Jared Leto alone with Leto doing a “Riz Ahmed” with lead shoes. Every time this trio interact with one another, you can just feel the calibre of each performer. Whether protagonist or antagonist, you can’t keep your eye off the screen when either of the actors speaks, or for that matter moves.
Of course there are issues with The Little Things. The direction is quite drab and alongside the un-enthralling score which inserts some beatboxing-lite amidst the flat piano sounds, these two aspects keep it from being something potentially better. That being said, writer-director John Lee Hancock (who was responsible for writing the flawless classic A Perfect World) has penned another memorable script with characters you feel for. With Joe and Jim starting as enemies in the carpark, then humourously asking each other where they’re “originally from”, to hugging and saying “my boy”, this is as much about a work-place friendship as it is about cracking an unsolved case. There’s also a great comment on police-work in general; does anyone (police or civilian) really know whether someone is guilty unless we’re standing over that person as they commit their crime? All the police have is evidence but there’s other evidence pointing in various other directions too (there’s a couple of amusing lines about fingerprint identifiers). A hunch can turn into assumption, and that can give a cop tunnel vision, focusing one way when they should be investigating all angles. With tiny (sorry, little) clues such as the upturned chair with too many cobwebs, a blue, brown, and green car, the perp drinking alcohol from the victim’s fridge versus a suspect ordering a non-alcoholic Shirley Temple, similar but not the same repair company names (ABC versus AAA), some possible charity (the suspect giving fast-food to sex workers), not to mention a potential witness and their tarnished I.D.-ing, it all leads to intentional frustration both for the two detectives and us watching. It’s like trying to solve the Zodiac killings or any other unsolved or cold case. You may want your main suspect to be the killer but you don’t know for sure; and it’s not illegal for someone to be a crime buff and to look a little weird. With all the evidence purposely pointing in different directions, there’s nothing for the audience to solve which makes the final scene a poignant one (falsified “proof” in the form of a victim’s red barrette) making The Little Things much more than your regular “throwback” or throwaway “thriller”. So no, this isn’t your average noir, it’s not a police procedural, and it’s not a serial killer thriller, it’s an extremely underrated drama thanks to the blinkered critics who dislike anything unless it can be easily pigeon-holed; but like evidence and suspects, films can’t always be compartmentalised. Like Joe said “It’s the little things that are important”…
It’s The Little Things That Get You.