REVIEW: The Little Things is the ultimate '90s thriller, for better AND for worse

By Rory Cashin

January 26, 2021 at 5:59pm

REVIEW: The Little Things is the ultimate '90s thriller, for better AND for worse

Three Oscar-winning actors star in this new serial killer thriller.

Remember in the 1990s, when Hollywood seemed to have a bit of a love affair with high-end serial killer thrillers? The likes of The Silence of the Lambs could take home the Best Picture Oscar, and dark delights like Se7en would run rampant at the box office.

There was a flip-side to that coin too, as with all things in Hollywood, once something became successful, it would be copied ad nauseam, and the serial killer thriller sub-genre was quickly snuffed out of fashion once it was caught up in a tide of xeroxed lesser-thans.

We're talking about movies like Copycat, Kiss The Girls, The Bone Collector... movies that aimed for that high benchmark, but missed and ended up more of a footnote than being of note.

Denzel Washington knows this all-too-well, as not only was he the star of The Bone Collector, but he was originally lined-up for and then passed on the role in Se7en that eventually went to Brad Pitt. The reason we bring all of this up is because Washington's latest outing The Little Things feels a bit like Now That's What I Call A '90s Serial Killer Thriller, and we mean that both for better and for worse.

Writer/director John Lee Hancock initially wrote the movie in 1992 - with Steven Spielberg to direct at the time, before Hancock came to be a director of Oscar-winning movies himself - and the action kicks off in 1990, so a lot of the crutches of modern thrillers (DNA evidence, mobile phones, GPS tracking) are immediately done away with.

Washington plays a small town cop Deacon who is sent up to the big city for a run-of-the-mill evidence check, where he happens to cross paths with the new hot-shot detective Baxter (Rami Malek), who is investigating a murder which happens to have a lot in common with a series of unsolved murders that Deacon was investigating years earlier.

We're told that the case going unsolved left Deacon burnt out, and this is why he left the city for the quieter, small town life, but maybe the time away will give him a fresh perspective on the case, and he ends up joining Baxter in the new hunt, and it isn't long before some evidence leads them towards Sparma (Jared Leto), a local hardware store employee with the words "Highly Suspicious" basically tattooed on his forehead from the second he appears on screen.

So we've got a determined, borderline unhealthily obsessed cop, a brash rookie detective, and a local oddball loner who may or may not be a serial killer; there is nothing here that viewers won't have seen a million times before, the difference here being that we're seeing three Oscar-winning actors in the roles. But even that isn't quite what you'd expect, as Washington and Malek both take a more subdued route for their performances, and while Leto is clearly having a lot more fun with his character, it still isn't quite enough to plant in your memory that way Anthony Hopkins or Kevin Spacey did back in the day.

Everything about the movie, from the script to the the cinematography to the score, seems bizarrely middle-of-the-road to have attracted such a high-calibre cast, and the only real thing that stands out from the mediocrity is an extremely late-in-the-day plot revelation that will have you scratching your head as to why Hancock decided to withhold such vital information until the very final few minutes. It isn't a plot twist as much as it is a long-overdue explanation, and unveiling it just as the end credits are about to roll makes for some extremely frustrating viewing.

Having said all of that, The Little Things is by no means a bad movie, just an incredibly forgettable one. But if this potentially means the return of the high-end serial killer thrillers from Hollywood, then at least we'll have that to remember it for.

The Little Things is launching in the States on Friday, January 29, with an Irish release date still TBC, but likely to be once Irish cinemas are able to reopen.

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