Review: The Little Things (2021)

Director/Screenwriter: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto, Chris Bauer, Michael Hyatt
Genres: Drama, Crime, Thriller
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violent/disturbing images, language, and full nudity
Release Dates: 1/29/21 (Theatres/Streaming)
Runtime: 2h 8min
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 47%
Where to Watch: HBO Max
Oscar Nomination(s): Possible–Supporting Actor (Leto), Makeup/Hairstyling

For a movie that features three Oscar-winning actors — Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto — you’d expect a movie to have some substance, or to at least be far less boring and more interesting than the exceedingly dull and unoriginal The Little Things, recently released simultaneously in limited theatres and on HBO Max. Writer-director John Lee Hancock’s story not only takes place in the 1990s (which has no real effect on the story), but was supposedly written then, and doesn’t appeared to have been updated. It’s the kind of predictable, slow-paced mystery that might have worked well some 25 years ago, but doesn’t work now, in the 21st century. 

It would’ve much more fascinating to see this type of story — involving the search for a a serial killer — in a contemporary setting, with twists and innovation. Although, if you’ve seen any of Hancock’s previous films, such as the overrated The Blind Side, then you know his oeuvre hardly rises above formulaic. I honestly don’t mind crime-filled movies that aren’t filled with action; sometimes those are more interesting and unique, but that is certainly not the cast here. At over two hours long, the movie is just one of those that I couldn’t wait for [it] to end. At some point, I started doing other things, like scrolling through social media and playing games, which I usually try to avoid when watching movies (if I really want to pay attention). Almost everything that happens is hackneyed, so much so that the film just left me with a “meh” feeling. It’s not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s a disappointment. 

Two out of the three Oscar winners are used very poorly here, though they’re not entirely to blame. Washington is fine enough in the leading role, but sometimes it just seems like he’s phoning it in and not caring about the role. Where’s that spark we’re used to seeing from him? Just because he’s 66 years old doesn’t mean he’s capable of giving us a more exciting performance. Side note: I found his character’s frequent gum (or tobacco) chewing to be quite annoying and pointless. As for Malek, well, he’s actually quite bland and monotonous here. It’s a far cry from his super-showy Oscar-winning performance in Bohemian Rhapsody (undeserved, in my opinion), except for the end, when we finally get to see some real emotion from him. But, it’s too little, too late. 

Surprisingly, Leto is the saving grace here — although, to be fair, the movie’s past saving. He’s, truly, the best part of the movie, and I was impressed with the way in which he approached the role of this creepy serial killer suspect, who seemingly is the film’s sole energy source. He doesn’t play it over the top, and some of his acting choices are really interesting here. It’s a shame, then, that he has so little screen time. 

And, now, I can’t forget to point out the choppy, terrible editing, which doesn’t fit with the movie’s tone at all. Not only are there some random, confusing flashbacks, but there are so many cuts in scenes that didn’t need them. I think the narrative would’ve been more effective and less dull with better editing. 

All in all, The Little Things is one of those movies you may forget you ever watched, despite the Oscar pedigree onscreen. But even 3 Oscar winners can be let down, misused, and find their talents wasted.