Three Oscars with zero chemistry
Nolen Kelly, Staff
Image Credit: HBO Max
“The Little Things” is the love child of “Drive” and “Se7en,” but none of the good parts of either of them. Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) and Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel Washington) are two Los Angeles detectives in the year 1990 who are tracking a serial killer that played a part in Deke’s secretive past. It is up to Baxter to help Deke get their prime suspect, a man named Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) and solve the case while also figuring out his veteran partner. I have quite a few issues with this movie, but I will go through all of the things I liked first just to show that even the messiest and limpest crime dramas can still have a silver lining.
This movie is visually stunning. There are so many shots of LA, the streets and various landscapes that just make this movie look so good. I say this film is like “Drive” because getting to know the city through unique cinematography is always a nice touch to a stylish film. Oh my God, “Drive” is such a great movie, but I have to move on. For many scenes, I was really pulled into the moment. In one scene, Baxter goes into a hotel and every ounce of green color on the walls inside and out was fantastic. I think many movies that focus on the city of Los Angeles really work when they put an emphasis on neon lighting, and while I do not particularly love this movie, it stuck the landing looks-wise and created a colorful and glowing city.
Alright, I’ve stretched it out as much as I could and beat around all the bushes. It is now time to talk about this masterclass of stupid. There are a few spoilers along the way, but I will try to keep it limited. I was actually pretty excited for this movie. I mean, it has Denzel, “Mr. Robot” and Jared “The Joker” Leto as the big names on the project. I figured at its worst the movie would just be okay but, unfortunately, it is a clunky, unfinished and messy product. The acting, story, writing and dialogue are all so awkward and bizarre. Having Malek, Leto and Washington in the same movie and having next-to-no chemistry amongst each other is not something I would think possible.
I talked about how this movie is part “Drive,” but it is also part David Fincher’s “Se7en” with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. I say this because of the “veteran detective working a case with a younger detective as they track down a vicious serial killer” dynamic. Pitt and Freeman worked astoundingly; Denzel and Malek do not. The main suspect they follow is Leto’s character, Sparma, who simultaneously has a large beer gut and looks thin and sickly. Man, Leto was just weird in this movie. I refer to this as a “poop doo-doo” of a movie, which is a direct quote from Leto himself in this movie, which basically explains how most of his dialogue went. I probably would have laughed at that or enjoyed the line if it was not at the climax of the movie in one of the most crucial scenes for his character. Leto had a few moments where I thought he was going to save this movie and turn in a vile and creepy performance, but he was just so strange. In one scene a payphone rings and Baxter checks it out, picks it up and Leto appears behind him and says “boo” to scare him. It was pretty good; it spooked me a bit too, but then Baxter tells Sparma to get up against the fence, and as a response, Sparma starts singing “Jenny” by Tommy Tutone. It is so bizarre, but not in a creepy character moment; it is just weird. I blame the whacky performances on the script.
The trajectory of the story is pretty straightforward: two cops chase a bad guy and then the movie has an ending. My biggest gripe with the script is all the super obvious moments and opportunities the writers could’ve taken to explore the characters, but didn’t. By the end, I didn’t feel anything towards anyone because I had no reason to really care about any stakes or any character. Yes, Baxter has a family, but I never felt like he was actually in danger of not returning to them. The only stakes and motivation in this movie are that there are dead bodies and the detectives do not want that anymore. Even with Deke’s past connections to this case, he still just seems like he can easily walk away from this case and not feel anything. By the end, they try to do a clever twist and pull from the book of “Se7en” again. I won’t talk about it too much here, but they use the “villain gets in the hero’s mind and it doesn’t go so well” trope as the hook of the climax.
I finished this movie and had a few questions. The more I think about them, the more it makes me mad about this movie. There were so many loose ends and unanswered pieces that weaken the overall effect the movie has as a crime-thriller and as a psychological character piece. I wanted to like this movie, I really did, but man, it was so messy. Robot performances, cliché dialogue, zero chemistry, no direction and objectively wrong decision-making all drag this movie down. The funniest part is everything I just listed was everything that was wrong with just Rami Malek. I feel like I may be exploding on this movie way more than it warrants, but it just makes me mad how they fumbled this near surefire of a crime-drama. My official ranking of the HBO Max 2021 original film “The Little Things” on a scale of Awful to Perfection: Bad.