BAXTER — What do you get when you combine three Oscar winners in a major motion picture?

“The Little Things” aims to find out. The recently released drama is playing at the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter (and is also available now at home with streaming on demand).

Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto are the trio of actors that gives the Warner Bros. movie its star power in a neo-noir crime thriller written and directed by John Lee Hancock.

Skull fragments of a long-ago unidentified person lie atop other bones. Photo by Chelms Varthoumlien on Unsplash.com
Skull fragments of a long-ago unidentified person lie atop other bones. Photo by Chelms Varthoumlien on Unsplash.com

Washingon plays Kern County sheriff deputy Joe “Deke” Deacon, an obsessed former Los Angeles County Sheriff's detective haunted by the memories of unsolved murder victims.

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L.A. lead detective Jimmy Baxter, played by Malek, asks Deacon to come along with investigators to the crime scene of another grisly homicide of a young woman in her apartment.

The grizzled veteran notices similarities between the latest killing and that of an old serial killer case he was unable to solve, one that has driven him to obsession, guilt and career suicide.

A burial ground with wooden crosses is eerily lit at sunset. Photo by Rubén Bagüés on Unsplash.com
A burial ground with wooden crosses is eerily lit at sunset. Photo by Rubén Bagüés on Unsplash.com

Deacon’s fixation with the serial killer case being investigated by Baxter, a young hotshot and idealistic detective, includes taking vacation time to remain in L.A. and offer unsolicited advice.

The bodies of murdered women turning up in the area also turns up the political heat on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to quickly solve the case before there are more victims and the FBI steps in to take over the case that’s turning into a public relations nightmare.

Deacon discovers, however, that a repairman by the name of Albert Sparma was in the vicinity of the murders and so Deacon begins to tail Sparma, played by Leto.

Their cat-and-mouse game comes to a head when Deacon brings the perversely enthusiastic prime suspect in for questioning but has to release him from custody for lack of evidence.

Baxter soon begins to follow that same, sorry trail that Deacon trailblazed earlier by neglecting his beautiful wife and children, pursuing the killer with the same zeal that ultimately left Deacon a broken and solitary man who spends his nights talking to ghosts and reliving past mistakes.

The two investigators’ complicities in covering up procedural missteps in an “ends-justify-the-means” approach to solving the case actually threatens to undermine it.

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While Deacon and Baxter start off the two-hour movie with apparently unsullied hands, audiences will learn that the pair are more alike despite their differences in style and ages.

The penultimate fact that they are willing to get their hands dirty and take a few short cuts in their pursuit of their idea of “justice” on behalf of silenced murder victims is unsettling.

“It’s the little things that are important, Jimmy. It’s the little things that get you caught,” Deacon tells an increasingly unhinged Baxter.

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“It’s the little things that are important, Jimmy. It’s the little things that get you caught.”

— Sheriff deputy Joe “Deke” Deacon, "The Little Things"


The R-rated film has been compared by some movie critics to “Seven,” a massive hit that was released in 1995 and directed by David Fincher. That feature film starred Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt also as an odd couple-pairing of detectives on the trail of a serial killer, too.

But Leto steals the show for his performance of an undeniable calm, cool and collected suspect who proves to be more than a match for the floundering investigators desperate for closure.

Leto received Best Supporting Actor nominations at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards for his portrayal of Sparma, who seems always just a step ahead of the good guys.

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“The Little Things” was written by Hancock in 1993, and the movie takes place in the grungy ‘90s with its use of pagers and phone booths, for example — the same time period as “Seven.”

But Hancock went on to direct sports drama films “The Rookie” in 2002 and “The Blind Side” in 2009, and the historical drama films “Saving Mr. Banks” in 2013 and “The Founder” in 2016.

Personally, I always take it as a sign of a good film if it leaves you thinking about it long after the credits roll and the lights come up. The ending of “The Little Things” may leave you with some big questions, but it didn’t leave me disappointed.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bdfilmforum.