The Little Things: They Add Up, Sometimes to Something Underwhelming

I love Denzel. I think Mr. Washington’s acting skills are top shelf, primo, well crafted, and all around just plain good. I see all of his movies; if I discover one I missed, well then I see that too.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I recently subscribed to HBO Max so that I could see the new Warner Brothers movies – if you are not aware, WB has decided to stream all of its new 2021 releases on HBO Max for 30 days simultaneously with the release in the theater. This, dear reader, is how I found The Little Things. And believe me when I say this is aptly named, but not necessary in the best way possible.

~ it’s the little things that get you caught ~

This movie has all the markings of a proper psychological thriller. A hero with a past. His arrogant replacement. A creepy villain. Dark tones, dark music, and dark lighting. Somehow, though, it never all seems to quite come together.

The movie start with some creepy foreshadowing. Without giving away the plot, a girl is chased through a field and escapes. Clearly, she is a major piece of the puzzle – the killer didn’t get her so the police will have a clue to the long sought after serial killer, right? Sorry, but that sound you hear is the sound of the buzzer saying, “You’re wrong!” Sadly, she is completely thrown away, though she does make an appearance late in the film after you have completely forgotten who she is, and any value to the story she can lend is undermined.

Ultimately, the film suffers from too much subtlety that never pays off, much as the aforementioned witness. A keychain that is not explained; an ex-wife hinted at but never really revealed; a department that hates the former rock star detective only to find out that the reason that they hate him is that he burned out after he became obsessed with a case he couldn’t solve (there is more to the story, but even that felt forced and was one of the plot pieces that felt too subtly foreshadowed resulting is no punch when revealed). Even the ending, was underwhelming.

The story had potential; I wish it had been realized.

~ the acting ~

Washington’s acting suffered from the script. When I was studying acting, one of the lies I once heard was that there is no such thing as a bad script, only bad acting. (Don’t get me started on this; such a lie was this.) Washington is a powerhouse actor, but even his ability was sorely stretched. Deacon is a troubled cop working in the small time county of Kern, California. We first see him dealing with silly vandalism and is soon thereafter tasked with going to Los Angeles and he doesn’t want to go (the reasons later become apparent), but the weak script instead make it feel like he was a slacker who just didn’t want to make the drive.

The overall character arc itself seemed to have fits and starts, much like an aged car might make you wonder if it will putter out at the stop light and then suddenly surge forward leaving you wonder what just happened. In fact, this may be for many reasons – the script, editing, directing, and acting could all be at fault. I will say that Washington wasn’t the only one who suffered this way. Rami Malek suffered the same issues: an arrogant man who is broken but we are never really sure what breaks him. Was it a comment the killer made about his family? Was it that he cared too much about the victims?

And ultimately, why did his character, Jimmy, ultimately decide to team up with Deacon who everyone said was “bad news”? So may questions that could have really developed these flat characters into dynamic characters with a punch.

I won’t even talk about Jared Leto other than to say his acting is immature (not saying he is childish), and he relies exclusively on the trope “Look at me I’m sad, you can tell because I am crying – see the tear” as he figuratively traces a line down his cheek to represent said tear. I am not a fan of his and this movie didn’t change my opinion.

~ the directing ~

The director’s vision is ultimately what makes or breaks a movie, but it doesn’t’ stop there. A vision is nothing without execution of that vision. I didn’t know the name John Lee Hancock before this movie, so off to IMDB I went. I see why I don’t know the name – he has 11 directing credits to his name and while I have seen many of these movies, only The Rookie, The Blind Side, and Saving Mr. Banks stood out to me. One cannot deny that these movies, tonally and thematically, greatly differ than a psychological thriller.

I am all for spreading your wings and applaud Mr. Hancock for doing just that. However, his first foray into this genre was quite lacking. Mr. Hancock has potential, I can see it clear as day, but again this potential is as of yet unrealized as mentioned previously. Ultimately, this type of movie depends on the director’s ability to pull it all together, and Mr. Hancock has yet to develop that skill for this type of story.

~ the cinematography ~

This movie is set in the 1980’s, as evidenced by the cars and use of beepers and pay phones over that of cell phones. I liked this choice, though admittedly it wasn’t clear from jump street about this choice.

I will say that this movie has a startling amount of daylight and brightness for a psychological thriller, and I am happy about that. These days, there are movies and TV shows that are dark for the sake of being dark. When there is no light, the darkness serves no purpose but to strain the eyes. Even in darkness, there must be accenting lights to highlight the shadows. The use of shadows was done exceedingly well, and the scenes were edited in a way to really highlight this.

The music choices were a little questionable – at times obvious and at times completely missing – and both scenarios are equally distracting. A more even approach would have been nice to have. I would also go as far to say that had they used more era appropriate music I might have been less baffled by the time period this was set in.

~ the verdict ~

Don’t get me wrong; this movie is far from a slogfest. I did enjoy it though not as much as I wanted to. This is a movie best seen streaming on a service HBO Max (sadly it was removed yesterday, so just wait until after it is out of the theater).

If you have seen it as well, feel free to leave comments below. Tell me which of my thoughts you agree with and where you think I missed the mark!

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