dir: John Lee Hancock
Well isn’t this flick a barrel of laughs.
It’s a bit of a throwback to police procedurals of which there used to be a dime a dozen. I’m not sure what changed, because there were a million on the teev before and there are even more now.
They’re not really my cup of tea. Of course, like billions of people I’ve watched so many episodes of Law & Order that I confuse it with reality, and think all the time about stuff that happened in the show as having happened in real life, but my capacity for watching crime these days is pretty limited.
So I can’t really say why I was drawn to watching this flick. Sure, it’s got Denzel, and that’s usually a great drawcard, but, honestly, he’s been phoning it in for years. And Denzel playing a tortured cop trying to figure out who some murderer is, is like such a cliché it’s beyond cliché. Almost every actor who’s ever acted has this role on their resume.
But I watched it anyway. It’s set in the early 90s, so no mobiles or internet, which honestly sometimes comes as a bit of a relief. Sure it’s the past, but it’s recent enough for those of us who were alive then to be able to remember a time before doomscrolling or getting hourly phone updates on what the dumbest people around the world are doing every day.
Now, that doesn’t mean life was actually any safer back than. If the opening of this film is any indication, even driving around in your car meant serial killers were going to come after you.
A young woman is driving a car, and gets weirded out by some guy in a car that she doesn’t see who drives near her. She gets so freaked out that she stops the car, and gets out, presumably because she’s going to reverse-psychology the serial killer into thinking killing her now would be too easy?
Anyway, things aren’t looking that good for her.
Then the flick jumps to a completely different location, with cops doing cop things in a decidedly less glamorous part of California.
Denzel, despite being Denzel, is a lowly deputy sheriff in this lowly one pick up truck town. He is tasked by his boss to drive to LA to pick up some evidence in some case. He is, we are given to understand, a lowly shitkicker errand boy, despite clearly being Denzel.
But once he gets back to LA, we are given to understand quite quickly that Denzel’s character of “Deke” used to be someone Important. Someone Grand. A homicide detective that everyone thought was great until he fell apart.
You see, the real victims in Crime are the cops. The dead no longer care, no longer hurt. Their families grieve, their loved ones and friends may ache, but the cops who investigate the crimes; that’s where the real hurt lies.
Deke can’t help himself but get involved, despite no-one the fuck asking at first, when he sees similarities between some contemporary murders with ones that happened back in the day, back when he was still important. A very young detective, like, 50 years younger (Rami Malek), seems entranced by Deke. Not, like, romantically, but Rami Malek would probably be able to pull that off too.
I can’t begin to describe how odd Rami Malek is in this film. I mean, he’s odd in a lot of things, but there is an archness to his performance that makes you wonder whether 99 per cent of what he does or says was in a script written on this mortal plane.
The probable best moment is when, frustrated, his character of Detective Jimmy Baxter, sitting in a boxy car, punches the driver side window, and hurts his hand badly, but it feels like it’s the actor improvising and then regretting it instantly, because immediately afterward it looks like a) he had no idea punching glass would hurt so much when it’s not stunt glass, and b) like he’s in enough pain and embarrassment not to know what to do next.
Denzel, I have to say, to his credit also looks surprised, but rolls with it anyway, as if to say, “you right there champ?”
It’s so unintentionally funny that I laughed out loud and lustily, I have to admit. I guarantee you Rami Malek’s manager worked extra hard trying to convince the producers to cut the scene from the film.
I mean, after all, Rami Malek is an Oscar Award Winning Actor! He can’t be allowed to look foolish, can he?
His character of the young hungry upstart, like I said, is standard and mandatory in this kind of fare. The additional weird wrinkle here is that there is an implication that he’s gotten as high as he has, and so young, only because he’s a member of the ‘right’ born again godbothering church, which carries a lot of sway with the cop hierarchy, and that that’s the real path to success as a cop, and not just shooting unarmed minorities.
The godbother-y stuff (in case you’re not sure what I’m saying, I’m explicitly saying it’s Evangelical Christian Fundamentalist stuff) doesn’t work its way into the script or the story beyond the images of crosses and people feeling guilty, and referring to murder victims as “angels”, but it’s strange that it’s there. The high benchmark for my money for cop / crime writing set in LA is the writing of James Ellroy, which I seem to recall also had an undercurrent that, other than many cops being horribly violent and deeply racist, many of their hierarchy also happened to be godbotherers (though generally not the protagonists of his books, usually just their cop enemies). It hardly constitutes evidence of such a thing being part of the reason why the cops are the way they are in the States (and everywhere else, let’s be honest), but it could be something someone here lifted from elsewhere.
Deke is no godbotherer, though. Though he is haunted by the victims of the crimes he couldn’t solve, he is more devil than angel, more plagued than crusading avenger. He tells Jimmy, using every cliché the screenwriter could collect and display, kind of like a bower bird, that following Deke’s path only leads to misery and burnout.
And yes, there’s a scene where he lies in a dirtbag motel and stares at the photos of murder victims on the wall, and the only thing it’s lacking is bits of string and newspaper clippings.
I mean, this is like movie cliché bingo, right there. Why wouldn’t Jimmy want to follow in his footsteps and burn out in style, with a crazy wall of his own?
I mean, everyone else keeps telling Jimmy not to be like Deke, not to obsess over a case like Deke. It has the same effect of characters telling a girl that they don’t like her handsome rebel without a cause boyfriend with the leather jacket in a different kind of flick. Jimmy seems to think “no, I need to be just like him, even if I have to kill him and eat him.”
Another body is found, and Deke is allowed to tag along, and he does his very lowkey detective thing, finding details others overlooked, finding the path forward for the plot when no-one else seems to have any idea. In a very convoluted way it brings him to their main suspect after very much having taken the scenic route.
Now, in any other context other than a film with a trailer where they show you who the killer is, it would be a spoiler. But if a film has a trailer like this film, it’s impossible to miss.
Jared Leto plays a character called Albert Sparma, and he looks kinda like Charles Manson, so you do the fucking math. The people who put together the trailer didn’t want you to do the math on your own, so they did all the work for you. You’re welcome.
It’s not accurate to say that Jared Leto is the bad guy, in the same way, strangely enough, that if you were talking about Silence of the Lambs, which thankfully this is nothing like, you wouldn’t say Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter is the killer in that film. He is a serial killer, and he is in Silence of the Lambs, but, wait, now I lost my train of thought. I mean this for very different reasons than what it sounds like.
Jared Leto, who also has an Oscar, and who over-ACTS so much that you can’t ever forget it, is such a strange oddball in this flick. He seems at first like someone too dumb to be a masterful serial killer who can avoid being captured. Then he seems ever so smart, so much smarter than the cops who think he’s just a greasy killer. Then he just seems like a harmless oddball that possibly just fantasises about being a serial killer, or a cop that chases serial killers.
I dunno. Jarod Leto has been terrible in almost everything I’ve seen him in since he won awards and plaudits and acclaim for playing a trans character in Dallas Buyers Club. I am not sure what the connection is. Maybe he started believing his own press. Every line of dialogue seems like the strangest take on a scene that I can imagine, and then his follow up tends to be even weirder. But then you remember, oh yeah, he’s a weirdo playing a weirdo, so maybe it’s great/terrible/great?
And all along, all throughout, Deke keeps glaring at him like he himself just doesn’t know anymore. What both of them sometimes look like they’re doing is wondering who can overact more than the other, and also how it is that these three actors have Oscars, and look at the kind of stuff they’re making together.
In terms of setting it in the 1990s, they don't really make a big deal out of it. Other than no mobiles, and the cars being really boxy, it gives the script a fair few moments when people do something really dumb, like take a ride with someone they think is a serial killer, and there isn't an easy out like they could text someone their location or something like "lol in the killers trunk wtf smh".
It’s not bad, even if that’s what it sounds like I’m implying. The ending of the flick will either elevate what you thought of the flick, if you bother with it at all, and I think most people won’t, or it makes the exercise seem utterly pointless.
Because, you see, the flick isn’t about the little things, the little details that get a killer caught, at all. It’s not even about righting wrongs or getting closure for families or allowing the souls of the victims rest.
It’s really about how cops, with their sacred duty to solve crimes and derive holy justice for the slain and unholy vengeance against the wicked, really are better than everyone else and shouldn’t have to be held responsible when they fuck up terribly.
It’s a stunning kind of ending, especially considering the generic nature of where things meander for the longest time. How they get their is incredibly dumb, as in, what leads up to the ending is just purest nonsense. Honestly, the dumbest cop on the planet wouldn't put themselves in the position Jimmy does at the end, thinking as he does that the person he's catching a lift with has killed dozens of people. But, well, no, I don't have an excuse. It kinda only works because of what happens next.
I didn’t not enjoy it, enjoy watching it, that is. I mean, it feels really wrong to say you enjoy watching anything with murders or killers and I have to say I am sick to fucking death of seeing dead women’s bodies as props and objects and relics in anything. That’s not the fault of the filmmakers or showmakers, that’s just me. The Little Things is interesting enough, and has some serious overactors not doing that much, and it has a gutting kind of ending, when you really think through all the implications, so it’s not a complete waste of my time.
But it might be a waste of yours.
7 times The Little Things in life are often the most annoying out of 10
“It's the little things that are important, Jimmy. It's the little things that get you caught.” – The Little Things