Review by Dan Skip Allen
Police dramas are like ice cream and apple pie: they are ingrained in American culture. Over the years there have been some great ones like Seven, Heat, and End of Watch, but there have been a lot of bad ones as well. It's hard to get all the little details right in a good police drama. The Little Things falls short of that. It's just not on par with the great police dramas of the past.
Denzel Washington plays an aging police officer in upstate California. When his department chief asks him to go to Los Angeles, it brings up memories of an old case. While in L.A., he gets involved with a younger detective played by Rami Malek. They start investigating a string of murders together. It brings back old wounds for Washington's character, reminding him of a case he worked on a few years before.
A good police drama has to make the viewer get engaged in the story and its characters, the mystery of the case, the struggle of solving the case, and the headache it causes the police officers or detectives trying to solve the case. It could be a missing person case or in the case of The Little Things, a murder case of a group of young prostitutes. The details are all in place for this film to be great. They just don't come together in the end.
John Lee Hancock has directed many films ranging from The Blind Side to The Founder. He's written scripts for just as many. In the case of The Little Things, he does both. This is his first police drama. He's dabbled in biopics and sports films, but this is the first time he got to write and direct such a hard-hitting subject matter. He does a good job writing the two lead characters. They just aren't great. They serve the story well but don't break any new grounds as far as police characters go.
The Little Things has some great cinematography, though. The scenes of the city and the surrounding areas around L.A. were captured beautifully. It helped give a feel of authenticity to the story. California can be a beautiful place at times and definitely at night. There was a lot of driving scenes though. So the scenery was seen through the prism of the person driving the car or truck. Those worked fine. It was like California was a character in the film.
Washington has done many films in his career. It's hard to find him in types of roles he hasn't already done before. As he's gotten older, he's veered towards these aging characters with a mysterious past. He plays a similar character in The Little Things. Like some of his contemporaries, he fits perfectly in these kinds of roles. He's good at playing the tough but mysterious loner. This might be his lot in life from now on in his career. His role in this film isn't his best, but not his worst either. It just seems to come so naturally to play this kind of role.
Police dramas are only as good as their villains and The Little Things lacks in that category. Jared Leto plays a mysterious appliance repairman. He seems to be the lead suspect in the case of the murdered girls. He has an odd walk and a subdued tone in his voice. This is to make him come off as odd. He just doesn't pull off the murderer vibe in the film. He just seems to be a weirdo in a general sense. Leto is far from his Academy Award-winning days with this character.
The Little Things lacks, somewhat ironically, those "little things" that make a good police drama work. The relationship between the two leads seems to be a little off and Leto is just off from his usual more flamboyant roles. This film has a good tone, feel and look to it. The story is okay, not great, but it doesn't break any new ground on police dramas. It just treads what has already been done before.
The Little Things hits theaters and HBO Max on January 29.