Monday Morning Movie Review: The Little Things (2021)

Over Valentine’s Day weekend I partook in a ritual that is increasingly rare:  a trip to the theater.  I’m a bit of a Regal Cinemas loyalist (thanks to their Crown Club rewards program), but they’re all closed, so AMC was good enough.

The choice of the word “ritual” is not mere metaphor:  for me, there really is a certain rhythm and order to movie-going.  It’s not the same as watching a movie on the couch (as this excursion reminded me), but truly is a whole experience.  The theater is the one place I’ll pay $7 for a Diet Coke, and I gladly plopped down $16 for a massive bag of popcorn and a jug of artificially-sweetened carbonated beverage this weekend.

Some movies are meant to be seen on the big screen—special effects-laden epics, for example—but some movies are simply better on the big screen.  The Little Things (2021), which I saw this weekend, was one such film.  It’s a movie I could have easily picked up on RedBox for a fraction of the price, but I think watching it at home would have undermined my appreciation of the film considerably.  Watching on the big screen demands one’s entire attention (especially now that theaters are operating at reduced capacity, making for fewer annoying patrons); watching at home offers myriad distractions.  If I’d seen The Little Things at home, I don’t think I would have appreciated it as much as I did.

But enough waxing philosophic about movie-going:  what about the film itself?  I knew nothing about the flick going into it—my girlfriend and I just desperately wanted to see a movie in the theater—other than it’s a neo-noir crime flick.  As I’m approaching middle-age, I’m slowly morphing into a true crime fan, so we eagerly set off for two hours of popcorn and Denzel Washington.

As my girlfriend put it, The Little Things is “a hidden gem.”  The story is straightforward:  Denzel Washington plays Deke, a former LAPD detective, now dealing with small-town vandals in Kern County, who is drawn into a series of murders that may connect with some cases he worked five years earlier.  Deke works closely with Detective Jim Baxter, a hot-shot on the rise within the LAPD and the public face of the manhunt for a shark-like new serial killer.

At a deeper level, the film is about obsession and its corrosive effects.  Deke takes vacation time from his deputy job to investigate the murders on his own time, feeding Baxter information and, ultimately, joining him on day-long stakeouts of an oddball suspect, Albert Sparma.  Deke’s former colleagues constantly warn Baxter to stay away from Deke, alluding throughout the film through Deke’s self-destructive obsession with finding the killer of three girls.  Baxter, however, is doggedly dedicated to bringing the killer to justice, and embraces Deke’s dark obsession.

Jared Leto’s portrayal of the prime suspect, Sparma, is a highlight of the film.  Sparma is an oddball and a loner with a sexual fascination with serial killers.  But even with loads of circumstantial evidence, the film leaves Sparma’s guilt and involvement unclear:  is he the killer, or is he just an enthusiastic observer of the killer’s “work”?  That lack of certainty sets up a major moral dilemma at the climax of the film.

Throughout the movie maintains a taut sense of suspense.  I never found myself bored with the movie, and actively concerned for the characters involved.  It explores the morally compromised choices Deke and then Baxter make in an effort to stop heinous crimes, raising questions about the lengths to which these men should go to catch the killer.  The film seems to suggest that extreme obsession with justice breeds evil of its own.

Here’s hoping we can all get back to the movies more frequently soon.  In the meantime, it’s a great time to catch some thought-provoking, entertaining flicks on the big screen—hidden gems we might otherwise miss.

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