The Little Things (2021) (EN)
The Little Things (2021)
Some movies betray me upon consideration. They are movies I appreciate while watching them, but as I sit down and try to summarize them I realize that they are not particularly interesting. The fact that I enjoyed them is in fact something of a mystery.
Sometimes it’s the other way around. Some movies become clearer after the fact.
I can not say that The Little Things, while watching it, were two of the most stimulating hours I have ever experienced. But afterwards, when I think about it a bit, I realize that it is actually not that shabby. It exists in a somewhat funny no-man’s-land; The script is a thriller from 1993, written by the director (John Lee Hancock) at the time. It was after The Silence of the Lambs but before Se7en. Now, in covid’s strange silence, Hancock has dusted off the script and juiced the production with three Oscar-winning actors; Rami Malek plays police #1, in search of a serial killer. Denzel Washington plays the burnout ditto who helps him, as he suspects it’s the same killer he himself hunted (and was burned out by). Jared Leto plays a fuzzy creepazoid who seems highly suspicious. Is he guilty, though?
It’s too easy to dismiss The Little Things as a mediocre thriller of its ilk, and it’s not a run of the mill 1993 thriller (it was too dark, after all, to be picked up at the time). It’s very muted, perhaps too muted, and it drives its point home soberly, perhaps too soberly. But it’s not kitsch. It’s a movie that wants to tell a story about guilt, by dressing it up in the tropes of a police thriller. The crux of the film is not whether the scary antagonist (Leto) is guilty or not; the point is that the police want to believe it so much, and that no one can ever know the truth.
As with many Denzel Washington films, it is a film that is completely focused on the protagonists’ psyche, although it is often only portrayed in cryptic and very introverted scenes that build moods out of silences. Most films of this kind usually put at least a little effort into the thriller element itself – who is the suspect, what are the clues, addresses, witnesses, misleading tracks… but The Little Things is really totally uninterested in its procedure. It’s all about what is going on behind the foreheads of our protagonists and our antagonist. The film does not get better or worse because we do not know if the antagonist (Leto) is guilty or not. The point of him is to stand as a symbol of man’s unspeakable potential for destructiveness – I say potential, because he can still be completely innocent. Ignorance is part of the point, as one of our heroes (Malik) is a kind of symbolic child who must be protected from this realization by the injured, but honorable, old mentor (Washington). The title’s ’little things’ we can’t take at face value – i.e. the minute little clues that eventually reveal a killer; it’s mentioned in the film, but only as a kind of thematic distraction. On the contrary, the ”little things” are crime buff minutia, or conspiracy fodder; the variety of details one stare blindly at in the hope of finding a sudden solution to a too great a mystery. If you look at The Umbrella Man long enough, maybe you’ll end up figuring out who killed JFK. This obsession leads to confinement, leads to insanity, and so on.
The territory is of course not particularly new – especially after more than 25 years – but The Little Things is so concretely uninterested in being a police routine that it almost takes on a different character; not far from a play, in fact, where we get more out of it all the more we just focus on the actors and understand everything around them as a kind of spartan, hypothetical backdrop. It may not be the kind of movie that most people will look for here and, at the end of the day, it may not be better or worse than The Bone Collector. But it’s a little different, and really a lote more quiet and introspective. Why not.