“The past becomes the future, becomes the past, becomes the future, becomes the past, becomes the future,” says Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon (Denzel Washington) in the movie “The Little Things”.
After hearing these words, you’ll think you’re watching a brooding thriller of epic dimensions.
Sure, some of the movie’s more intense scenes will make you press pause as you look blankly at the ceiling.
However what you’ll see on your ceiling probably won’t provide you with the light-bulb moment to kindle your understanding of what Deacon meant when he said it all, by saying nothing at all.
With this one, writer/director John Lee Hancock was probably going for a Jordan Peele meets Agatha Christie whodunit potboiler. But instead, came up with the not-quite-there dramatics of a Philip Luswata.
In this movie, Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon (Washington) is a former Los Angeles cop who has suffered more setbacks than a spinal cord made of cement.
‘Deke’ lost his marriage, suffered a heart attack, and then left town in the wake of a crime he couldn’t solve.
So he’s all alone in the city of Bakersfield, probably thinking about better days when, in another life, he was Alonzo Harris in the movie Training Day.
This story unfolds in 1990, with great cinematography and a decent score to enhance the movie’s atmospherics, as Deke gets embroiled in a case similar to the one which almost destroyed him in the past.
As he gets sucked into this new murder case, we can almost hear him say, à la Michael Corleone, “Just when I thought that I was out, they pull me back in”.
This all plays out as he helps his replacement Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) with a serial killer case that’s left everyone wondering whether they need to call in Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt from the movie Seven to help crack the case.
As Deke and Baxter are sniffing a cold trail, their noses lead the two gumshoes to Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) as the prime suspect.
“The Little Things” then becomes a cat and mouse game between the two detectives and Sparma, with the latter dangling clues which may incriminate him or simply drive Baxter and Deke nuts.
There’s also a subplot unfurling in the shape of Deke vs. Baxter.
Both of them are brilliant, but their gentle rivalry violently blooms into Baxter’s obsession with solving a crime which is slowly turning him into the emotionally ruined Deke.
Just like Deke, you’ll see, Baxter has two daughters and a wife he increasingly ignores.
We see Deke being haunted by the serial killer’s victims, seeing them in the middle of the night as he splashes about in a cold sweat in his dingy hotel room.
Deke and Baxter’s shared obsession with this new case leaves them so invested in their work that we see the seeds of their mutual destruction creeping towards them like Dante’s woman with spider legs in the movie Seven.
As they pursue the killer, everything else is relegated to the margins of our consciousness.
Even the performances of Natalie Morales as an officer and Michael Hyatt as a coroner are reduced to extended cameos, which makes the movie suffer since Washington then has to carry it all by himself.
Washington, as we all know, is an excellent actor.
However his excellence is often heightened by his co-stars. But Malek never rises to the emotional intensity he displayed when acting as Freddie Mercury in the film Bohemian Rhapsody.
This cinematic offering has potential written all over it, but slowly comes apart to become the debris of a broken promise.
The first thirty minutes seem to gravitate toward the brooding depths of Silence of the Lambs, as the acting chops of Washington excite our cinematic palates.
It’s all there: a washed-up cop hell-bent on his own redemption as the movie’s sweeping vistas and deepening interiors reach out to us to make for a fine picture.
Then, just as we line up the popcorn, this movie dies in its own movie.