The disastrous disappointment of John Lee Hancock’s neo-noir serial killer procedural demonstrates how a compelling script is still the most important element – even with three A-list, Oscar-winning actors.
Set in 1990 in California, the plot follows police officers tracking Albert Sarma (Jared Leto), a creepy, soft-spoken electrical repairman, a self-confessed “crime buff,” who murders young women, shrewdly leaving no weapon, evidence or witnesses, taunting law enforcement’s ineptitude.
The sinister prologue shows him pursuing a female driver on an empty freeway at night as she tries in vain to seek help at a closed gas station – accompanied by Thomas Newman’s ominous score.
Stoic Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel Washington) is an aging deputy in the Kern County sheriff’s department; he has an enigmatic backstory, including a heart attack, that supposedly explains why he’s tormented by a cold case from the past.
Recognizing Deke’s instincts and wisdom, ambitious hot-shot LAPD detective Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek) enlists him to help solve this perplexing homicide puzzle, even if that involves bending the rules a bit.
That’s alluded to in a cryptic scene with the coroner (Michael Hyatt) who refers to a previous disturbing encounter the morgue with Deke. And there’s the predictable exchange in which Deke reminds Jimmy that it’s “the little things” that matter: “It’s the little things that rip you apart. It’s the little things that get you caught.”
So you have odd-couple cops after an elusive psychotic killer – and nary a distinguishable female character within camera range.
Perhaps its derivative datedness can be attributed to John Lee Hancock’s having written the screenplay almost 30 years ago (1993) after completing his work on Clint Eastwood’s “A Perfect World.” In the intervening years, Eastwood, along with Steven Spielberg, Warren Beatty and Danny De Vito, expressed interest in directing. Right now, however, it’s past its prime.
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Little Things” is a floundering, formulaic 4, streaming on HBO Max.