The detective genre seems to be one of extreme highs and lows for Denzel Washington. The highs can be morally complex characters like Training Day or a literary staple like Devil in a Blue Dress. Lows can be derivative cliches like Out of Time or ambitious failures like Fallen. The Little Things is Washington’s worst detective movie, and that’s saying a lot.
Denzel Washington pays attention to ‘The Little Things’
In 1990, Joe “Deke” Deacon (Washington) has to return to Los Angeles from his post in Kern County. He has to bring back a blood stain from a trial that’s ending in L.A. While in town, Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) invites Deke to assist on a case that may have some connections to one of Deke’s unsolved ones.
Deke is not the detective he used to be. Five years ago he had a heart attack. He has an ex-wife we meet briefly. We’ve seen this burnt out cop with one last chance at redemption before. The Little Things has nothing to add to that conversation, and little more to add about young hotshot Baxter’s training day.
‘The Little Things’ are too little
Deke and Baxter spend a lot of time scouring crime scenes, following the suspect, Albert Sparma (Jared Leto). The investigation is just not compelling. Deke makes the point that investigations can be frustrating, and it only takes one clue to make or break the whole case. That may be a very realistic approach to detective work, but it does not make a very entertaining movie.
Writer/director John Lee Hancock set The Little Things in 1990 so there are pay phones and no internet. It’s old school detective work. They don’t make obvious mention of DNA evidence, but that would have existed for them already.
The Little Things is little more than a CSI episode with movie stars, only if it were on CSI you would turn the channel. As a movie it can be a tad more grizzly, although not too much more. They already got away with a lot on crime shows, and this doesn’t hold a candle to Hannibal on network TV.
The case, and the movie, falls apart
There is merit to the story of Baxter as a young, slick hot shot who gets rattled by a case. Deke already cracked once so he’s keeping his cool this time. The problem is, Baxter makes such an incredibly stupid decision we’re supposed to go with, it’s hard to relate to the rest of the movie. To say any more would be a spoiler.
The Little Things may have something relevant on its mind about the nature of police work, but if it requires a main character to do something so unbelievable, any message gets drowned out by the glaring plot contrivance.
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