Denzel Washington has played enough cops to fill a force.
In “The Little Things,” he’s back on duty but, this time, he’s partnered with Rami Malek as an attention-seeking detective who’s hot to find a serial killer.
A veteran of difficult cases, Washington’s Joe “Deke” Deacon has an ability to visualize how a crime may have taken place. He gives Malek’s Jimmy Baker plenty to ponder and, in the process, becomes drawn to the case.
Both men think a steely-eyed laborer (Jared Leto) is a prime suspect. He has a Manson-like look, makes suspicious moves and isn’t afraid to confront either of them.
Director John Lee Hancock strings out the cat-and-mouse game, reveals plenty about the two lawmen and lets Leto steal any of the moments he’s on screen. He doesn’t turn up right away, but when he does there’s plenty to consider – like the insider information he’s able to share without prompting. He’s creepy, too, and sports a pot belly that could be one more clue to his past.
Washington, meanwhile, plays much of this like he did “The Equalizer.” Short on words, he internalizes plenty, suggesting there’s a past that needs unpacking. Hancock takes his time getting to that, too, but isn’t afraid to spill plenty about Malek’s hotshot detective.
Given to tailored suits, sunglasses and a smug look, Baker is a bit too “NYPD Blue” for his own good. He has a public profile, as well, and likes playing to the media. He knows, though, that a misstep could hurt his career. Thus, the willingness to listen to the been-there-done-that senior citizen.
When they’re together, Malek plays the role of student quite well. He listens, but knows he needs a win.
Had Hancock cut some of the posturing, “The Little Things” could have introduced other suspects. With the glare burning on Leto, there’s a lot at stake.
That’s where the title comes in – it’s “the little things” that bear watching. Washington offers examples and gets our attention as much as Malek’s.
Still, the film could have used less conjecture, more action. Leto and Washington are electric together. Malek seems out of his league. He acts broadly; the other two embrace nuance.
When this races to a conclusion, it’s clear Washington’s character has always been in control. He doesn’t strut or preen. He relies on instinct and demonstrates, yup, it’s the little things.