Denzel Washington is one of the best actors of his or any other generation. He’s that rare performer who’s equal parts actor and movie star. Washington has been accused of almost always playing himself. He does often play the smartest and coolest cat in the room, but when you’re as convincing at it as Washington is, you can hardly blame him. Such is the case with “The Little Things” – now available in theaters and on HBO Max through Sunday Feb. 28.
Washington stars as Joe “Deke” Deacon, a disgraced Los Angeles detective who defected to becoming a sheriff’s deputy in rural Kern County, California after a case went sideways. He’s called back to the City of Angels by Captain Henry Davis (Glenn Morshower) to retrieve evidence for a case they’re working. While there Deke makes contact with his former-partner-turned-Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department Captain Carl Farris (Terry Kinney), former colleague and friend Detective Sal Rizoli (Chris Bauer – Andy Bellefleur 4 lyfe!) and the man who filled his post – Detective Jim “Jimmy” Baxter (Rami Malek). Jimmy’s working a series of murders and disappearances that bear a strong resemblance to the case that got Deke ousted from the LASD. Despite their initial trepidations, Deke and Jimmy team to solve the case. Their primary suspect is skeevy appliance repairman Albert Sparma (Jared Leto).
There isn’t a ton of action in “The Little Things” – it’s a slow burn that’s primarily a psychological thriller. At its heart it’s a three-hander that sports capable performances from Washington, Malek and Leto. Washington could play Deke in his sleep, but by no means sleepwalks through the picture like some of his contemporaries might’ve. The dude elicited a huge laugh from me by simply kicking some mulch. I feel as if Malek was kinda miscast as Jimmy – he sorta alternates between looking like a little kid and a Chihuahua – but he’s a good enough actor that he not only sells the role but is also able to stand toe-to-toe with Washington … no small feat. I suppose I just buy Malek more as Freddie Mercury than I do as a detective. I’ve traditionally been mixed on Leto, but he’s arguably the most impressive of this talented trio here. He adopts dark contact lenses, facial prosthetics and a gait that’s reminiscent of Vincent D’Onofrio’s as Edgar in “Men in Black.” If Leto sent used condoms through the mail to his “Suicide Squad” castmates in order to embody the Joker’s headspace, I’d hate to think of what lengths he went to in playing Sparma. I’d also like to single out actress Michael Hyatt for props since she does wonders in a supporting performance as a coroner who does Deke a serious solid.
Appropriately enough “The Little Things” takes place in 1990, which makes sense as it’s a throwback to the serial killer flicks that dominated the decade. (For the record, it was also penned by writer/director John Lee Hancock in 1990 and at one time had the likes of Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Warren Beatty and Danny DeVito attached to direct.) It doesn’t reach the heights of David Fincher’s “Seven,” but it’s better than any of Washington’s other efforts in the subgenre from that era, i.e. “Virtuosity,” “Fallen” and “The Bone Collector.” The period setting doesn’t factor in considerably otherwise aside from the makes and models of cars characters drive and a lack of cell phones that helps fill plot holes.