A Chilling Cat-and-Mouse Game Ensues in ‘The Little Things’

Garrett Hartman


The Little Things (written and directed by John Lee Hancock) is a noir-inspired crime thriller that follows former LAPD detective Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) as he works with his successor (Rami Malek) to solve a string of serial murders that plague Los Angeles.


The Little Things intertwines Deacon’s secretive past with the even more inexplicable mystery surrounding the serial killings. This drags the two cops into a cat-and-mouse game capturing the audience's attention from start to finish. 


The performances are terrific, with Jared Leto giving a particularly superb performance as the  prime suspect, Albert Sparma. Leto creates an eerily charming antagonist who perfectly plays to the air of mystery, doubt, and confusion the film aims to create. 


In typical noir style, the film offers no heroes -- which is utilized to serve the film’s theme on obsession and the nature of justice.


Instead of conflicted characters who falter clearly behind the lines of right and wrong, these  characters always seem to be in the middle of the road. Questionable behavior never seems particularly wrong, and well-meaning goals never seem particularly right.



This creates a dynamic that makes the characters almost too realistic. Malice seems to be absent from their actions, making good and bad seem sort of incidental.


I personally felt confused at the end of the film, rather than intrigued and informed. All the plot questions are eventually answered, but not in a way that is satisfactory. 


I didn't know exactly what message the film was trying to convey, or what we – as viewers -- are supposed to take away.


The film aims to make the audience feel conflicted in regards to the actions of the protagonists. However, with a lack of strong examples of moral righteousness and fallibility, weighing the two feels more like picking at semantics than truly measuring an intense contrast between intention and action.


In some respects, this may be seen as a commentary on the crime genre and audience expectation, poking fun at how film and television have conditioned audiences to not question, and even respect loose-cannon police officers who think, “Rules are made to be broken.”



However, even with this reading, the film’s ending doesn’t quite feel as though the filmmakers are giving the audience a punch in the gut over their acceptance of police overreach. 


The Little Things is by all means an intelligent and well-made film. Terrific performances and an intriguing plot make this a strong start for future films to come in 2021.


However, with a somewhat unsatisfying ending, those who like their film-watching to be reminiscent of an AP literature discussion may be left wanting more.


Author Bio:


Garrett Hartman is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.


For Highbrow Magazine


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