We’ve seen this all before… and done better 3 Stars

Writer-Director John Lee Hancock’s the little things arrives on Blu-ray after a brief theatrical and 30-day run on HBO Max. Unfortunately, it is a stale film so full of cliches and contrivances that even its Oscar-winning cast can’t save it from itself.

The Little Things (2021)
Released: 29 Jan 2021
Rated: R
Runtime: 128 min
Director: John Lee Hancock
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Cast: Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto, Chris Bauer
Writer(s): John Lee Hancock
Plot: Kern County Deputy Sheriff Joe Deacon is sent to Los Angeles for what should have been a quick evidence-gathering assignment. Instead, he becomes embroiled in the search for a serial killer who is terrorizing the city.
IMDB rating: 6.3
MetaScore: 54

Disc Information
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.39.1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, English Descriptive Audio, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating: R
Run Time: 2 Hr. 8 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, Digital Copy
Case Type: Blu-ray eco keepcase with slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 05/04/2021
MSRP: $35.99

The Production: 2/5

Kern County deputy Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel Washington) is sent down to Los Angeles to retrieve a crucial piece of evidence for an upcoming trial. While waiting for the evidence to be retrieved, he visits some of his former co-workers at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office, where Deke was a top-rate detective before his life completely fell apart (including a heart attack, divorce, and losing as high-profile serial murder case). Deke’s replacement, Detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), is currently investigating a similar series of murders, and the two ultimately begin helping each other out narrowing down the suspects to an anti-social loner and appliance repair man Albert Sparma (Jared Leto). Sparma is a true-crime fan, and is enjoying taunting the police in their investigation, perhaps a bit too much.

The script for the little things was originally written in 1993 by John Lee Hancock as a project for Steven Spielberg, who ultimately passed on the film due to its darker themes (and instead moved forward with Schindler’s List). The script was then passed around Hollywood, with Clint Eastwood, Warren Beatty, and Danny DeVito as some of the directors attached at some point, with Hancock eventually deciding to direct the film himself after success with the films The Founder, Saving Mr. Banks, The Blind Side, and The Rookie. There is no arguing that Denzel Washington really elevates the role of Joe Deacon in what could have been just another cop reconciling with demons from his past. Malek is very good, playing what is essentially a younger version of Deke who is about to go through the same experiences. Leto manages to lose himself in the role, but almost does so by overplaying it (something the actor has been guilty of in other roles, particularly as The Joker in Suicide Squad). One of the movie’s main problems are its familiarity with other serial killer movies – the opening sequence is almost lifted verbatim from Silence of the Lambs; both detectives talk themselves through what the killer was likely thinking while walking the crime scene (Manhunter); and the beginning of the third act feels too much like David Fincher’s Se7en. And it is that third act, with its twist out of nowhere, that ultimately and completely derails the film. Up to that point, the performances by both Washington and Malek kept this reviewer at least somewhat interested in the outcome, but Hancock’s twist is so out of left field that it just could not rebound from it.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

the little things was captured digitally at 8K resolution using Panavision Millenium and Red Weapon Monstro cameras, then completed as a 4K digital intermediate in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. For whatever reason, despite streaming on HBO Max in 4K with Dolby Vision HDR and available as a 4K digital stream with HDR on services like Vudu, Apple TV, etc., the highest resolution that Warner is releasing the film on physical media is on Blu-ray. That is not to say that the AVC-encoded 1080p transfer is not worth watching – it’s actually an excellent-looking Blu-ray release. This is a relatively dark film (in more ways than one), and handles its black levels with quite literally no visible crushing whatsoever. Shadow detail here is excellent. There are also no noticeable compression artifacts, with overall detail remaining strong. Colors are intentionally muted but natural.

Audio: 3.5/5

Like the video, the 4K streams include a Dolby Atmos track that is absent here on the Blu-ray release, which is odd for Warner (they have been one of the few studios that have almost always included an Atmos option on Blu-ray if available). Included on the release is a very good DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that still manages to provide an eerie atmosphere, with good LFE response, very good surround presence, and clear and understandable dialogue. At least the Apple TV app will let me watch my included digital HD copy with Dolby Atmos (which I sampled prior to writing this review and really does make a BIG difference).

Special Features: 1.5/5

The Little Things – Four Shades of Blue (1080p; 9:22): A look at four films from the Warner Bros. catalog where Denzel Washington played a police officer – Ricochet, Fallen, Training Day and the little things.

A Contrast in Styles (1080p; 7:54): A behind the scenes look at the film, featuring interviews with writer-director John Lee Hancock, producer Mark Johnson, and actors Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto.

Digital Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a digital HD copy on Movies Anywhere.

Overall: 3/5

Despite terrific performances by its three leads, the little things can’t overcome its familiarity and cliches heavily borrowed from other serial killer mysteries and a third act that tries to be clever but fails miserably.

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Todd Erwin

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Jake Lipson

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I watched this earlier in the year when it was on HBO Max because it's a new Denzel Washington movie and why not? It was...fine while it was on, and then I completely forgot about it almost as soon as it was over.
 

Reggie W

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I had at one point looked forward to seeing this. It seems most people that have seen it are really lukewarm on it. With the cast it has I really feel like I should at least give it a shot but the way people seem underwhelmed by it, mainly because the final act just totally falls apart, has me leaning toward just giving it a pass.

Color me conflicted on this one.
 

Josh Steinberg

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There are worse ways to spend two hours; it’s the kind of mid budget movie that used to be the bread and butter of studios back before the evolution of home media shifted audience preference to watching that kind of content at home in expanded limited series lengths. The filmmakers kept the early 90s setting which would have been contemporary to when it was written.

The thing is, in this era, there’s not much of a point to this kind of movie. There’s not enough time in two hours to develop the mystery or the characters to a satisfying degree, but the actors are genuinely compelling performers. It’s just that this kind of storytelling probably works better as a six hour “True Detective” season than a two hour film.
 

Reggie W

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There are worse ways to spend two hours; it’s the kind of mid budget movie that used to be the bread and butter of studios back before the evolution of home media shifted audience preference to watching that kind of content at home in expanded limited series lengths. The filmmakers kept the early 90s setting which would have been contemporary to when it was written.

The thing is, in this era, there’s not much of a point to this kind of movie. There’s not enough time in two hours to develop the mystery or the characters to a satisfying degree, but the actors are genuinely compelling performers. It’s just that this kind of storytelling probably works better as a six hour “True Detective” season than a two hour film.

Yes, interesting comments, Josh. Maybe the cop/detective story/genre has reached a point in its evolution where the way those stories have to be told now are in long form television. Perhaps now the shorthand of a 2 hour film no longer works to deliver something that makes people feel they are seeing something new. Maybe because shows like True Detective or Mindhunter just are so good it makes something like this picture just seem a minor effort in comparison.

Combine this with many decades of cop/detective films, including the genre defining ones, that you are competing with and there is just no good way to approach a story like this that will impress an audience unless you have really come up with something fresh.

I don't see people saying this is a bad picture, they just seem to feel that it does a bunch of things we've seen in many other films/shows but not as well as those previous shows or pictures. As you say, not really having a reason to exist.

The story of how long this script was around that Todd tells is kind of interesting. It was obviously a well liked script at the time. Seems a lot of people read it and thought about making it. Maybe had it been made back then by one of those directors people would see the picture as something of a 1990s gem. Now, with all that has come after it, well, it arrives as a minor effort featuring a bunch top notch actors who now are tasked with elevating somewhat "stale" material.

I was very excited when Washington said he was doing a "noir" detective story. I mean, great actor working in a genre I love...sounded wonderful. I've seen Washington elevate stale material before. The Equalizer pictures were nothing new and probably with a different actor would have been ho-hum stuff. Denzel kept them watchable though and lifted them above the action cliches they were built on. Maybe when he read this he felt the same could happen here. He and the other actors could take what were the solid bones of this story and lift it to a better place.

I probably will eventually end up watching this, it has so much talent onboard I find it intriguing to not only watch as a film but perhaps to see what the issues were that could have improved it. Or who knows, maybe I will find it to be wonderful because now I am going in with very diminished expectations.
 

Josh Steinberg

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I think there are a couple things that jumped out at me about The Little Things coming out in today’s world.

A film like this works in part due to shorthand - the genre sets up expectations/parameters for what the story is and how it will unfold, and the casting/actors fill in a lot for who the characters are and how the audience should respond to them.

Now I think two things have changed with the times. I think nearly a century of films that have come in at or around the two hour mark have really explored much of what can be done within that format. I think it’s true that art can thrive on limitations and making something longer doesn’t automatically make it better, but I think it’s also true that there’s not a lot of unexplored territory left within the confines of those previously mentioned shorthands.

At the same time, more people are watching their entertainment at home than in theaters, which removes a lot of time limits on content which can now seem arbitrary. True Detective (or any other similarly well made production on a premium service) isn’t better because it’s longer or because it’s on HBO. It’s better because, absent an arbitrary two hour time limit, the detectives get to be fleshed out beyond narrative shorthand. They’re still played by A-list actors but they have more time to flesh out the character; the characterization begins with the star in the role instead of the star power being the entirety of the characterization. The extra length allows the script to fill in detail that elevates the material beyond the framework necessary to get the story from point A to point B to point C. And the extra time allows the direction and pacing to ebb and flow to better create and sustain moods.

I think if The Little Things had come out in 1993, it would have been received better because its sole competition would have been other two hour films working within the same confines and audiences wouldn’t have expected anything more. But as it stands in 2021, everything about The Little Things is something that audiences have seen elsewhere over and over. And that’s where the arbitrary nature of a two hour runtime constraint works against it. What would have made the movie work better? More time with the characters, both the leads and support. More detail about the mystery. More time to flesh out where the story goes and why it goes there. But each quality that would have made this particular film better is constrained by the demands of telling a complete story in two hours.

So in the end, it’s just a movie. It doesn’t get to be as deep as it wants to be because there isn’t time. It’s a pastime. There’s nothing really bad or wrong about it and it was nice enough to watch for two hours, but nothing in it takes root beyond that. It’s akin to the films they used to call “programmers” - it’s a perfectly fine product that will fill the screen and give an audience something to watch on a Friday night but isn’t really something you need to go back to if you missed it the first time around, and isn’t something that you’ll be thinking about the next day. It’s fine, it’s something to do.

But with as many choices as we have today with what to watch, that doesn’t seem good enough anymore.