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‘The Little Things’ fails to hold any mystery

By Mason Kupiainen The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinion of Byte or Byte’s editorial board. Being a passion project for writer and director John Hancock, The Little Things has been in development for almost 30 years. The first draft was written back in 1993 with Steven Spielberg originally interested in helming the project. He eventually left due to the story being “too dark” for him. Directors such as Clint Eastwood, Warren Beatty, and Danny Devito all circled the project at one point or another, with none of them attaching themselves to it. Now, finally, Hancock’s story is being brought both to the big and small screen, with the film playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max at the same time. The Little Things follows deputy sheriff Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) and sergeant Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) as they try to solve a series of brutal murders. As they unravel the mystery, Deacon’s haunted by a past mistake that echoes their case.

Clues don’t matter

Image from Los Angeles Times

With an all-star cast, including three Academy Award winners, Washington, Malek, and Jared Leto, as well as notable directors like Spielberg and Eastwood all attached to direct at one point, it’s disappointing to see the film turn into an unsolvable mess. Washington and Malek give very hollow and dry performances to their weakly written characters. Their motivation is clearly shown in the movie, but their dialogue and actions are confusing and awkward at times. Surprisingly, Leto gives one of his best performances, with his character stealing every scene he’s in. An example of his brilliant performance comes from an interrogation scene between him and Baxter. This scene perfectly encapsulates his sick nature, while showing off the characters playfulness. Leto gives off an incredibly uncomfortable and unsettling vibe, while also having a likable and amusing nature. His character always has a quip and is perfectly written to the point that you never truly know what he will do next, or if he’s ever telling the truth.

Hollywood’s finest

Image from Cleveland
Aside from the weak performances, the technical aspect doesn’t hold up either. A frustrating thing about big studio films is the easily avoidable mistakes. From the start of the movie, the editing felt off and jarring. Throughout the movie, many quick cuts and scenes are jumping from one to another without a smooth transition. There are also times when an actor’s expression dramatically changes, only to go back to their original expression seconds later. Having something this noticeable and awkward made the movie even more frustrating since it’s something that easily could’ve been avoided. The direction didn’t have anything remarkable about it either. It felt bland like the rest of the movie, and lacked any creativeness to it. None of the shots were rememberable or stood out as unique ways of telling the story.

A mystery without any mystery

Image from Vulture
With a script that was written back in 1993, you’d think that the story would have been locked solid, but it’s not. The movie opens with an attempted murder and kept the killer’s face hidden during the sequence. Whether it was intentional or not, there was a quick moment where we get a view of the man’s face that throws away any mystery as to who’s committing the murders. Also, Leto’s character, who’s the prime suspect of the whole movie, has a distinctive walk, to the point that the moment he’s shown on screen, you instantly know whether he is the killer or not. Since the movie tries to be an edge-of-your-seat thriller that wants to keep you constantly asking questions, the movie at the same time doesn’t give much to keep your interest. There are moments when the film does do a great job at creating suspense, but these moments are too quickly dissolved. 
Most great serial killer murder mystery films have a message directly tied to the killer’s motivation. One of the best films of the genre, Se7ven, includes great messages revolving around the seven deadly sins, as well as the fall and corruption of man . The Little Things lacks having a clear and distinctive message that leaves it feeling lifeless. There are many Christian parallels to angels and allowing our past to haunt us, but neither of these felt like messages, but rather like themes. Lacking a moral message makes a film like this feel hollow and soulless, and leaves us only trying to solve the mystery. But if the movie lacks a compelling mystery and conclusion, that adds to the overall disappointment of the film. Speaking of the ending, the climax of the movie is terrible. There isn’t a better way to describe the ending rather than terrible and unsatisfying. The ending echoes similarities to the climax of Se7en but without any of the payoff. How the movie decides to resolve the mystery isn’t necessarily a terrible way to end a film, however, in this instance, it was poorly executed. Many of the film’s mysteries are left unsolved by the time the credits roll, and it felt like an odd note on which to leave the movie. For viewers who pay extremely close attention to the subtle details planted throughout the film, they can try and piece together the mystery after the fact. However, with the evidence that the viewers are given, the movie will leave you frustrated since the clues all point to different outcomes. It could be that the filmmakers wanted audiences to feel irritated, just like how a detective who can’t solve a case may feel. But again, the execution of the film is handled too poorly to leave any effect on viewers. Sources: Deadline, Collider, Oscars (Denzel Washington), Oscars, (Rami Malek), The Hollywood Reporter, The Metaplex Images: Los Angeles Times,  Cleveland,  Vulture Featured Image: Hypebeast