At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Little Things “2021”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Neo-Noir Psychological Crime Thriller/ Stars: Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto, Natalie Morales, Terry Kinney, Chris Bauer, Joris Jarsky, Isabel Arraiza, Michael Hyatt, Sofia Vassilieva, Jason James Richter, Kerry O’Malley, Sheila Houlahan, John Harlan Kim, Glenn Morshower, Maya Kazan, Tiffany Gonzalez, Judith Scott, Lee Garlington, Charlie Saxton, Olivia Washington/Runtime: 127 minutes

I think it is safe to start this review off by letting you in on another one of those little secrets of the land of movie magic that you ought to know by now dear reader. That of course being that, for certain genres, a slice of cinematic pie’s ability to astonish you in a way you weren’t expecting is always going to be a terrific ace to have in the hand a movie is working with. I mean as often as slices of cinematic pie are made and then sent out into the world for mass consumption, I can honestly say that a person should never be ungrateful to a movie giving an audience an aspect that they won’t be able to see coming from a mile away. Indeed sneaky narratives and brilliant wrinkles can be things which can either elevate a film and see it be highly regarded by both the causal movie goer and the professional reviewer or send a movie watching experience crashing to the ground with a resounding thud and have the vast majority of those who watch it really wondering just why in the world they devoted at least a couple of hours to watching a movie that feels like a film they’ve seen at least 99 times previously. Put another way: if you give the audience a movie that is only what they expect to see in a movie like yours then the odds are you will have cured insomnia, but your film will not be as regarded as it otherwise could have been. The reason I bring this up dear reader is because this is the proverbial kryptonite that weakens the movie I am reviewing for you today, this year’s new crime thriller The Little Things from film helmer John Lee Hancock. Indeed operating as a film that works as sort of a throwback of sorts to the visceral and chilling serial killer films of the 90s like Seven and Kalifornia, this slice of cinematic pie has quite the riveting base to build on in the form of a trio of truly electric stars in the main roles and it does also enwrap you in the proper mood and atmosphere fairly well, but finds itself stricken with a screenplay that is nowhere near as novel as the film so desperately needs it to be. Suffice it to say the film really does suffer as a result and, despite the presence of some truly riveting moments within the film to say nothing of a trio of (as to be expected) performances, the film is not fully able to get past the little things it has been dealt (pun intended) thus resulting in a slice of cinematic pie that is simply mehhh to good that honestly could have, and given the pedigree of talent involved, should have been a whole lot better.

The plot is as follows: The Little Things tells us the riveting yarn of a man by the name of Joe “Deke” Deacon. Mr. Deacon, we quickly learn, is a getting up there in years charter member of that organization known as law enforcement in a tiny little county about a couple hours away from L.A. who is pretty much when our story starts trying to just waste the time away at work until he can finally clock out one last time and be done for good. Further complicating things for him is the fact that Deke isn’t exactly the most admired guy in the office, due in large part to a dark past and being need in of a late-life attitude adjustment, and it is at least a little bit due to this that is why he is the one who is assigned to go to L.A. on evidence collection duty. Suffice it to say that it is a task he is not exactly the most thrilled at being assigned, due in no small part to the fact that his past was as a cop in L.A., but nevertheless he agrees to get the job done. Of course, it should come as no surprise to learn that he is quick to encounter a stumbling block of sorts in getting this errand fulfilled courtesy of the lab telling him that the evidence won’t be ready for at least 24 hours. Thankfully, our intrepid hero is just as quick to find a puzzle to take his mind off the wait courtesy of an on-going investigation dealing with a butcher who has a fondness for women. Yet while he doesn’t exactly do a great job at initially gelling with the officer in charge of the case, one Sgt. Jim Baxter, Deke eventually is able to convince him to let him come along to the latest crime scene and lend a helping hand. Suffice it to say therefore that Deke proves to be just that as he is able to help Baxter find a hiding spot from where the killer observed the victim before dispatching with her. At the same time though, Deke soon gets the feeling that the criminal Baxter is hunting is the same one who drove him out of L.A. in the first place. Suffice it to say that, even though he is cautioned about it, Baxter decides to have Deke work the case with him and it isn’t long before Deke becomes convinced that he has found the guy responsible for the crimes in the size, height, and weight of a slimy delivery guy by the name of Albert Sparma. Unfortunately our dynamic duo finds themselves really hitting road block after road block in order to prove it and it isn’t long before they find themselves having to go to places that they never knew existed inside themselves in order to not only uncover the truth, but maybe also to ensure that justice truly is served…

Now for all the grief that I could potentially lay on this movie’s shoulders, I will say that for what it is worth that The Little Things moves along at a fairly good pace at the beginning as it not only gets out all the necessary background, but it also gives us a sense of just who our integral characters are and sets the mood beautifully. It is when the movie chooses to focus a lot of the suspicion on the character of Albert Sparma that the movie begins to falter slightly due to not really having that riveting of a puzzle at its heart anymore. Put it another way: it would be like if in the movie Seven if the actor playing John Doe (like you thought I would write that spoiler information here) had been around in the movie a lot earlier. Indeed as soon as Sparma pops up, the whole narrative seems to become no more and no less than “is this slime ball the guy or not?” and as a result the plot is not able to keep its momentum going as well as it needs to. I mean either he is the psycho they are looking for, which given Leto’s casting you could assume, or he’s not, which is the more novel approach, but also not likely for reasons I won’t say. In fact, I won’t spoil here which way it goes, but I can tell you that it all ultimately leads to an ending that for quite a few people out there might not be the most satisfying in the world.

Now it should be noted that there are some fairly brilliant and well-done moments in the film that are present including a game of freeway tag between Deke and Sparma that has you really wondering just who is “it” and an intriguing defiling of some testimony from a witness among some other examples. By and large however, it is quite head-scratching to me to see just how much this slice of cinematic pie is willing to be as cliché as possible. I mean it is my personal opinion that film as an art form would be a whole lot better overall if we didn’t have every single antagonist say the words “You and I are quite similar” or some variant of that to every single protagonist yet this is a film that gives us just that. More than that though, this film also gives us such time-honored moments as an off the record and covert examination of the suspect’s apartment all the way to unnecessary emotional outpourings in interrogation (you know the kind of stuff you see in every single movie in this genre). I mean even some of the musical accompaniment might even see you thinking out loud “You can’t possibly be serious right now…” including, and I am not making this up, the song “867-5309” being played during a moment in the film where a phone call (thankfully it was not to a girl named Jenny) is being discussed. It should also be noted that these stereotypes also are apparent in the characters as we see Deke and Baxter really are no more than the typical scarred and seasoned pro/young up and comer dynamic duo, but at least in this film this been there, done that material is being performed by some of the most electric thespians in the industry. Indeed seeing the legendary Denzel Washington working with Rami Malek on this movie will really make you want to see them work together on something with a little more heft to it since they both do predictably good work here. Indeed it may be slightly corny to see a seasoned law enforcement officer stare at some crime reports for hours at a time, but if that cop is being played by Denzel Washington then you can be assured that he will have my interest for every single minute of that time. On the other side of the coin, we see that Malek does a wonderful job at playing the archetype of the young up-and-coming cop beautifully right down to the slickness and dogged determination. Finally, it may take a little while for him to come into the film, but I can promise you that Jared Leto manages to do a great job at giving us what is needed in the role of Albert Sparma with the main thing of course being the fact that he is able to make you despise him and his sliminess whenever he comes on screen. Indeed he seems to be making this character a real trail mix between that one lady Charlize Theron played in 2003’s Monster, John Doe from Seven, and maybe even a hint of Dr. Lecter and while he does tend to take things a wee bit too far, he is still able to ensure that this character makes the impact on the audience that he should.

All in all it is worth knowing dear reader that film helmer/scribe John Lee Hancock first put pen to paper and conjured up the script for this slice of cinematic pie all the way back in that distinct decade known as the 90s. I say that this is worth knowing because having that knowledge under your belt does gift you with an epiphany of sorts about this slice of cinematic pie the moment you start to really think about it the moment you are done watching it. I say that because, beyond the meh to decent plot going a long way to showing you just why no one in the world of movie magic was that keen to bring this story to life then, I also feel that had it by some freak stroke of luck been made and put out into the world back then it would have stood out like a thumb which a doctor was trying desperately to reattach after it had just been run over by an 18-wheeler in a time in the world of movie magic where the distinct genre that this slice of cinematic pie belongs was being taken down riveting and engaging new avenues. With that in mind, it is clear to me that watching this slice of cinematic pie over 2 decades after it was initially thought up it is clear that this is one weakness that the movie, despite the passage of time, just could not escape no matter how hard it tried. Suffice it to say therefore that whilst The Little Things is not a bad movie by any stretch, it also is not as great as it could have been either. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Little Things “2021” a solid 3 out of 5.