Despite what the TV crime shows want us to think, serial killers aren’t as prevalent now as they were in decades past. Maybe it’s due to advanced technology, or maybe because of decreased hitchhiking, but at the moment we seem to be spared the Zodiacs and Bundys that used to torment us.
Perhaps it’s also why The Little Things is set in the 1990s. Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington), formerly of the LAPD, returns to his old office on a routine errand and ends up drawn into an investigation similar to the disastrous case that destroyed his health, marriage, and career. What actually happened is given to us slowly, and while the two cases remain unconnected, it gives Deacon insight he’d trade for a clean conscience.
Young women are being kidnapped, murdered, and posed. Heading up the new investigation is Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), the hotshot new kid who initially tries to have Deacon’s car towed and quickly comes to respect the more experienced older man. Deacon agrees to help. Haunted by the ghosts of past victims and his own mistakes, Deacon has to help, no matter how many people advise him to stay out of it.
One suspect quickly rises to the surface. Albert Sparma (Jarod Leto) is a creepy, vacant-eyed repair man who takes twisted enjoyment in seeing photos of the dead girls. He also enjoys playing mind games with the police, getting under Deacon’s skin and causing him to lose control. There’s not much here we haven’t seen before.
While surveying another horrific crime scene, Baxter asks Deacon if he believes in God. “When I see a sunrise, or a thunderstorm, or dew on the ground, yes, I think there’s a God,” Deacon says. “When I see all this, I think he’s long past giving a s—.” It’s an attitude that seems to sum up the film as a whole. Replace God with the idea of truth or justice, and you get the sense that these characters, good and bad, believe in those things as concepts. But injustice is so common, does it matter? Does anyone care?
It’s a bleak outlook in a bleak movie. The little things of the title refers to the idea that one small mistake leads to another, and another, until finally the whole facade comes crashing down. If we lose hope in the God of Isaiah 61, a Lord who loves justice, we can fall into despair.
After cutting out a few glimpses of nudity and some bad words, The Little Things is the sort of thing that would have played on cable TV in endless loops during the time in which it’s set. It looks good. The music is good. All the actors do their part. Unfortunately, for all the little things it has going for it and a bold attempt at a twist ending that doesn’t quite land, the final result is something forgettable. (Warner Brothers/HBO Max)