Is The Little Things a 2021 release or not? It's hard to tell, with the pandemic forcing so many films to debut on streaming services, forgiving the old rule of "must play in LA and NY movie theaters for one week to be eligible for that year's Oscars", and postponing awards season itself by a couple of months. This film's supporting player Jared Leto has already received 2020 Golden Globe and SAG nominations for his work, so... welcome to the murky world that is early 2021 cinema.
The Little Things is set in 1990, which is a convenient year when you have a plot that couldn't work in the era of mobile phones, yet you don't have the budget to make a proper period picture. It also recalls all the cop/serial killer thrillers that dominated the 1990s after the success of The Silence of the Lambs. Above all, The Little Things feels like a less stylish rehash of Se7en: jaded old black detective (Denzel Washington) teams up with driven young white detective (Rami Malek) to track down a murderer, and they cross paths with a highly suspicious creep (Leto) who wants to toy with them. Sound familiar? Then you can probably guess what happens.
It's not that The Little Things is terrible. It works to some degree as a character study, and Washington and Malek deliver subtle, watchable performances. (As for Leto, you will either find him effective or merely trying too hard, as usual. It was the latter for me.) Yet when all is said and done, it doesn't tell much of a story or make much of a point. Hancock's screenplay keeps telling us how obsessive his characters are, but it doesn't try hard to convince us, especially when Ramek's character does something incredibly stupid for the sake of advancing the plot. Mostly the film just sort of exists for two hours, then it's over. That said, Thomas Newman's score is a highlight.