Director John Lee Hancock forgets it’s The Little Things that set movies apart. The result is a crime thriller that moves at the pace of a Texas drawl.
The title alone of director John Lee Hancock’s latest film lends itself to critics who are equipped, locked, and loaded with a snark cannon. I would never say anything that rude, though. Never. Some would, however. They may say that it’s the little things like, say, an entertaining story, a sense of unique style, well-drawn characters, distinct cinematography, and sense of pace that The Little Things lacks. Again, I would never say those things. Of course not. What I would say is that it’s a crime thriller whose story is brought to a standstill longer than a Texas drawl. It lacks any thrill, suspense, and even some humor to make the whole thing tolerable.
What exactly went wrong with Mr. Hancock’s ode to ’90s Hollywood crime thrillers? Here is a man who has brought us numerous contemporary classics. Yes, his Alamo was a critical and financial disaster, but the man is responsible for such acclaimed films family films as The Rookie, The Blind Side, and Saving Mr. Banks, all uniquely different and varied. The Founder, by far his best film, is an undiscovered classic. Yet, his last two films, The Highwaymen and The Little Things are so monotonously dull I felt they should both come with a warning to not silence your cell phones so you could set an alarm to be at work when they were over.
How does a cast of this pedigree get caught in the middle of such a dull exercise in the studio system machine? I’m guessing for the money, which I can’t fault anyone for. It has three Academy Award-winning actors headlining. The biggest name is Denzel Washington who plays Deputy Sheriff Joe “Deke” Deacon Jones, who takes some vacation time after reviewing his old precinct to help catch a serial killer with a young hotshot Sgt. Jim Baxter (Rami Malick, nominee number two). As they track the killer, secrets of Deke’s past begin to pop up during the investigation. This puts the investigation, their ethics, and their lives in danger.
I’ll ask again, what went wrong here? It’s Mr. Hancock’s script that is hopelessly stuck in the past without letting the audience in on the joke. The entire point of the film somehow is to establish Washington’s backstory, which should have been settled much earlier, or been a secondary plot point, to push the story and the pace forward. The tropes of a former cop returning to help the police solve one more crime makes me wonder how long the script has been sitting in Mr. Hancock’s office.
The Little Things is frustratingly bland. There have been remarks and comparisons to this film being close to Seven, which is wildly inaccurate. Besides the opening scene, which does have a certain build and unique cinematic offering, the rest of the picture is flat. Even Jared Leto’s (nominee number three, if you are counting at home) lacks enough style, implementation, or failing that at least an accurate profile, to give the thriller a more interesting psychological component.
When The Little Things begins to make interesting choices, they hit the brakes almost immediately and with little payoff. The audience doesn’t ask for much, but what they demand is a reward for their investment. Mr. Hancock’s film does offer a return but doesn’t sweat it.