The Little Things is a nicely timed reminder of why we love movies. A morally complex serial-killer thriller with a mouthwatering A-list cast, it’s a throwback to the Hollywood of 30-odd years ago, when these sorts of prestige genre pics were commonplace.
It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that writer/director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) penned this in 1993, at the outset of his career. An L.A. story set largely in the night-time gloom, it’s an unsettling tale of murder, obsession, and how the past can haunt you.
Denzel Washington, in arguably his best thriller role since Training Day, is Sheriff Joe Deacon, a top cop who left the L.A. beat for the quieter life in Bakersfield (for reasons that simmer away in his psyche and won’t be spoiled here). When his boss sends him to the big city to collect some evidence for a case, he gets sucked back into an “all hands on deck” search for a killer who has been indiscriminately murdering young women.
Leading the case is Rami Malek’s hotshot detective Jim Baxter, who initially doesn’t seem pleased that Deacon is back but soon recognises his value. Things really get interesting when all evidence points to Jared Leto’s loner Albert Sparma as the murderer. As Deacon and the increasingly fixated Baxter attempt to nail him, lines become blurred and ethics are ignored. Sparma, meanwhile, seemingly gets off on playing ‘catch me if you can’ with the cops.
Setting his story in the early ’90s, Hancock has crafted a film that feels like an admirable addition to the serial-killer genre, even tipping a wink to The Silence Of The Lambs in its opener, as a young girl tears down the highway singing loudly to herself, à la Catherine Martin’s introduction in Jonathan Demme’s classic. Smartly, Hancock also keeps the violence largely off screen; it’s the aftermath we’re left with.
What really resonates, though, is the acting. Washington and Malek – in his first major movie appearance since Bohemian Rhapsody – are both great, but Leto is utterly mesmerising here. From those eerie brown contacts in his eyes to a walk that feels Frankenstein-like, it’s a true transformation that’ll send shivers your way. Factor in the grungy, noir-y lensing from Director of Photography John Schwartzman, and The Little Things has all the ingredients of a first-rate twisted tale.