Hollywood crime thrillers – they have produced some beauties over the years haven’t they? Of course I would be kicked out of any film critic’s group if I didn’t throw Se7en and The Silence Of The Lambs in is as proof but let’s not also forget Fargo or The Bone Collector – and of course one of my favourite films of the past few years Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Yes they are classics and it is obvious that director/screenwriter John Lee Hancock wanted his latest film, The Little Things, to earn its place alongside these shining stars of the genre but sadly there are just a couple of little things that hold the film back from reaching those lofty heights.
To his credit all the chess pieces are there on the table. You have the chiselled and burnt-out cop – Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon (Denzel Washington – Training Day) and then you have the private school-boy, fresh faced Detective who can’t put a foot wrong – Jim Baxter (Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody). Then to complete the triangle you have out there psychopath who you could easily believe has killed half an American city – Albert Sparma (Jared Leto – Suicide Squad).
Their paths then all cross when Deke goes on a simple mission to the city where Baxter is investigating a horrific murder that he believes is the work of a serial killer. Deke and Baxter meet and soon Baxter is intrigued enough to bring on the burnt out blood-hound to have one last crack at redeeming his glory days. His gaze falls on Sparma and soon the sparring begins.
It is a pretty impressive set-up and to be completely honest Hancock has delivered one hell of a screenplay. His characters are well set-up and believable due to the fact that he has made them natural but interesting enough to make them different from most of the clichéd cops that we see on the screen these days.
Then there is the crime element of the story – again brilliantly created by the pen of Hancock. The film takes the same route as a film like Prisoners or The Place Beyond The Pines – it is gritty, dirty – everything that an American crime story set in the back blocks of a big city should be. Then there are the fantastic twists and turns that the script brings to the audience, they are constantly being pulled this way and that way as the cat and mouse game begins with Deke and Sparma.
Now reading this you are probably thinking ‘wow, he loved it.’ And to be honest I did love the screen-play but the film did have one major flaw – the casting. Washington, and I love him to bits handles the material pretty well – he plays the methodical cop pretty well – likewise Leto brought his A-Game to the table. While most don’t want to admit it Leto showed they his plays a psychopath amazingly well with his portrayal of the Joker (seriously people go watch the uncut version of Suicide Squad where he gets more screen time if you don’t believe me) and once again he delivers here making Sparma a memorable villain.
The problem here lays with Rami Malek. And yes Malek is a great actor and he does what he can here, but he simply isn’t believable in his role of Baxter. It is strange watching him the role because it seems like a glaringly obvious mis-casting when he first appears, then as the film goes on he kind of grows on you in some scenes, but then when the finale plays out you once again realise that he just isn’t right for the role. When I think of a character like Baxter I think of the performances that Mark Wahlberg and Matt Dillon played in The Departed and here Malek just isn’t believable like they were, sadly through no fault of his own he in this role drags the film way back.
The Little Things could have been an amazing film – the screenplay alone makes this film the kind of film that could have become a classic but sadly one little miscasting takes the audience out of the realm of believability and drags the film back to the pack of other crime thrillers that are out there.