Academy-Award winner Denzel Washington took a three-year break from making features but his most recent crime-thriller is finding its popularity rising as it sits at #3 on HBO Max’s most-watched.
The Little Things finds Denzel Washington in familiar territory, playing a cop. Here, Washington plays Bakersfield, Kern County deputy sheriff Joe Deacon who is called to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to collect evidence of a recent murder. Deke, as he is called, is a former L.A. Sheriff’s detective.
While Deke (Denzel Washington) is collecting the evidence, he is asked to accompany Detective Jim Baxter (Academy Award winner Rami Malek) to the scene of a murder. When they arrive, Deke notices similarities between this murder and an old serial killer case he was unable to solve.
When another girl goes missing, Deke decides to take vacation time to stick around and help Baxter with the case, even though Baxter is advised not to involve Deke. Baxter finds out that Deke is in Kern County because he suffered a heart attack after being obsessed with his unsolved case. In some ways, this is familiar territory for Denzel Washington.
Another victim’s body is found and Deke, along with Baxter, begins to investigate Albert Sparma (Academy Award winner Jared Leto). Sparma works near the murders, so he immediately is on Deke’s radar. Besides, his creep factor is enough to raise eyebrows as well as suspicion.
But Sparma is a wily one. He slips through Deke’s grasp, taunting him all the while. Deke finally brings Sparma in for questioning, but Sparma wiggles out.
Although Deke feels Sparma is guilty, his guilt is called into question when Deke is informed that Sparma confessed to a murder eight years prior that he never could have committed. Sparma’s fingerprint is a partial match but not enough to keep him.
Deke and Baxter then conduct an illegal search of Sparma’s apartment but are unable to come up with any hard evidence. Baxter finally confronts Sparma, demanding to know where one of the missing girls is located. Still playing a game, Sparma leads Baxter to the desert where Sparma says he buried the body. When the digging begins, all the secrets are revealed and we have another Denzel Washington hit on our hands.
John Lee Hancock directed The Little Things from a script he penned years ago. He wrote it back in 1993 and hoped for Steven Spielberg to direct but the Jaws director felt the script was too dark for him at the time.
After that, big names such as Warren Beatty, Danny DeVito, and even Clint Eastwood were all separately attached to direct the film but ultimately Hancock decided to direct the film himself.
Hancock recalls the initial excitement surrounding his script and one reason it wasn’t made at that time. “Back in the ‘90s,” Hancock says via Variety, “There was a lot of excitement over the script, but one executive said, ‘We’ll make the film if you change the third act.’ I said ‘That’s the precise reason I wrote it.’ I wanted to embrace the genre and subvert it at the same time, so it would not be formulaic but be satisfying.”
Producers would end up being prophetic as Hancock’s ending is what has turned off so many critics of the film. The film sits at a 45% favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes with most negative comments revolving around the ambiguous ending that doesn’t fully satisfy, regardless of the fact that Hancock had three Academy-Award winning actors at his disposal.
It’s rare that Denzel Washington delivers a misfire and though his acting in The Little Things isn’t in question, Hancock doesn’t do him any favors. Then again, and we’ve hinted at it on more than one occasion – what do critics know?
For Denzel Washington, The Little Things comes after the longest break in his storied career. Washington was last seen in the 2018 action thriller, The Equalizer 2, where he returned as Robert McCall, a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer, who uses his skills to seek revenge on those who killed one of his friends.
Denzel Washington turned his early television role as Dr. Phillip Chandler on the hit series St. Elsewhere into a highly acclaimed movie career. Throughout his over four decades on the big screen, Washington has been in hit movie after hit movie.
He has two Academy Awards, one for Best Supporting Actor for Glory and the other for Best Actor in the crime thriller Training Day. Denzel Washington also has three Golden Globes, one Screen Actor’s Guild Award, a Tony Award, and in 2016 he received the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. Washington is held in such high acclaim that The New York Times rated him as the greatest actor of the twenty-first century.
It may take more than one viewing to fully grasp Hancock’s story but sitting at #3 on HBO Max, The Little Things will definitely keep you thinking. You can decide whether that’s a good thing or not.