The Little Things15
With the phenomenal success of streaming sites such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, the distinction between acting on a TV show or feature films is almost non-existent, with talent now freely ably to flit back and forth between the two.
This was not always the case however, with Hollywood indulging in a superior attitude for decades, making it difficult for any actor to make the transition, regardless of talent. One of the trail blazers from the eighties however, was Denzel Washington.
His breakthrough role in 1982 was in the excellent hospital drama St. Elsewhere, playing Dr Philip Chandler. Although the show only lasted for six seasons, it paved the way for the likes of ER, Homicide: Life on the Street, and by extension the more mature dramas found on HBO such as The Wire.
The role provided him the opportunity to star in Richard Attenborough’s 1987 Cry Freedom, playing Steve Biko, with a performance that won him his first Oscar nomination. Since then, Washington has cemented his position as a true Hollywood ‘A’ lister, picking up two Oscars along the way. Not bad for an actor starring in a show before it was ever cool to be on TV.
For his latest role, Washington stars as a cop, who gets sucked back into the dark world of murder.
Working the beat in Kern County is Deputy Joe Deacon (Washington). Having worked tirelessly on the crime-filled streets of LA for a number of years, Deacon is content with the slower pace of life.
One day however, his boss sends him to LA to pick up some evidence for a case they’re working on, which leads Deacon back to his old precinct, where he gets less than a warm welcome.
Although new kid on the block Detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) doesn’t initially appreciate his appearance, his attitude changes when he learns just what a big deal Deacon used to be. As he’s working a huge case regarding a possible serial killer, Baxter realises that his experience could prove useful, and allows Deacon to help out.
It turns out Baxter’s instinct were correct, because their prime suspect Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) is the sharpest of tools, and if he’s committed the vile acts they believe he’s done, it’s going to take at least the two of them to bring him in.
Although Washington hasn’t found it necessary to return to TV since his St Elsewhere days, this feature owes much to the TV anthology crime drama True Detective. Although the film dresses itself up as a hunt for a serial killer, it’s more of a character study into the detectives on the case. So much so that although it depicts the gory nature of the crimes, the physical acts themselves are never seen.
This allows not only the development of its two central protagonists played by Washington and Malek, but also the relationship that builds between them. It soon comes to light that they are both cut from the same cloth, as well as haunted by similar demons.
Both Washington and Malek give sterling performances, but there’s nothing the pair can do when Leto literally lets his hair down and runs amok with his chilling performance. Imagine a more hip, chilled version of Hannibal Lecter and you’ll find Leto there with a menacing grin.
Where The Little Things flounders however, is with its plot. As the film progresses, its story gets lost in a performance haze, whereby it physically runs out of steam by the film’s finale, which is disappointingly flat.
Although writer and director John Lee Hancock may have adapted the feel of something like True Detective, he fails to employ the significance of the crime itself, which is always lurking somewhere in the show, driving the narrative from the off. Here though, it’s more like Hancock drops it off early on in proceedings, relying instead on the character studies of his three leading men.
And there’s no denying that all three give a superb account of themselves, with the scenes shared by Washington and Malek being particularly impressive, and yet its last third, where the story simply goes AWOL, certainly dilutes the impact of the film overall. It’s the kind of project you would have liked to have seen another director take a shot at, like David Fincher for instance, to see what their vision of it might have been, as you do feel that the film could have offered more.
Still, Washington clocks up yet another watchable role, supported more than ably by Malek and Leto, it’s just a shame that the dark, blood-soaked path the film initially leads you on, sadly ends up nowhere satisfying at all.