We could say that The Little Things is a waste of time. That it contains a star‑studded cast with a weak storyline that left us disappointed. Or we could say that the film does an excellent job of conveying the loudness of subtlety. That the absence of things is just as important as the tangible evidence to getting at truth, or in this case, solving a crime. The Little Things is a film about just that – what it is that we are not seeing.
Denzel Washington plays Joe “Deke” Deacon, a California deputy–formerly a homicide detective in the Los Angeles Police Department–who encounters young, hotshot but reserved detective, Jim Baxter. The viewer is quickly drawn in by Deke’s obvious demotion from big city to small town, wondering about the story behind his fall from grace.
Played by Rami Malek (Mr. Robot, Bohemian Rhapsody), Baxter struggles to solve a string of murders when he meets Deke, who is running an errand to LA to pick up evidence for an unrelated case. Fittingly, the film is dark and shrouded in the aesthetics of the 1970s to mesh with Deke’s old‑school approach to solving crime. Indeed, the dark, dense forests and empty highways give it the southern feel of Mississippi Burning, rather than the palm trees, warmth, sun, and blue skies that typically signal Southern California.
Clearly respected by his former colleagues, Deke draws the curiosity of Baxter, who begrudgingly but desperately finagles a way to get the "old man’s" help on the case to catch a serial killer. A predictably bumpy relationship at the start, the two grow to trust and rely on one another, as Baxter resigns himself to the need to look at his case a different way. What he learns is that he relies more on what he sees than what is not so obvious.
The suspect adds enough mystery to make him a conundrum. His walk, appearance, and lack of predictable behavior make him a puzzle piece that belongs but fits the completed work too loosely. He challenges, perplexes, and even frustrates Baxter, while Deke’s response is one of deep thought, patience, and process.
It is difficult to say if you will enjoy this film, despite its intrigue and the familiarity of its cast. We think, though, if you are willing to go deep to appreciate the lessons of the story, you might find it worth the sitting. Some of the themes are quite relevant to our common lived experiences, while others reiterate well‑known adages: that young people learn from older ones; the myth that older people have outlived their usefulness; the belief that outdated tactics are too old and slow to be of any value; and the piéce de résistance—that things don’t always appear as they seem.
A barn burner? No. Emotionally impactful? We didn’t think so. But if you like good acting and a story with themes that spur discussions with family and friends, go for it!