Diversity was what BAFTA’s revised awards guidelines were aiming for after the revealing fiasco of 2020’s all-white awards, but the 2021 list of films nominated almost exactly matches the list of films sent out on disk. Which is to say, the 250+ films entered needn’t have bothered stumping up for an entrance fee; voters only seem to have looked at the ones that streaming services were prepared to pay big money to send to voters on disk. Whether Academy members can’t figure out how the arcane awards-viewing website works, or just can’t be bothered watching anything not backed by an expensively-produced boxed set and advertising campaign, genuine diversity is the opposite of the false-positive results. So there’s few indies and few surprises amongst the weakened field of 2021 BAFTA nominations; one of the notable fallers was John Lee Hancock’s thriller The Little Things.
Hancock has developed quite a directorial career since his scripts for A Perfect World and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil became Clint Eastwood projects; The Blind Side, Saving Mr Banks and The Founder were all awards bait, and a big name cast featuring Remi Malek, Jared Leto and Denzel Washington promise serious drama here. But the story, about a tough cop and his partner tracking down a fiendish serial killer, is very much a 90’s thing in the manner of David Fincher’s genre-defining Se7en, and aside from Hooker’s industry clout, it’s almost impossible to see why it got made. Indeed, with a script written in 1993, The Little Things doesn’t feel reflective of anything but the need for movies to movie; it’s a rote piece of work, elevated by the charisma of the stars.
Washington top-lines as Joe Deacon, a Bakersfield deputy sheriff haunted by an unsolved cold-case; Deacon teams up with suit-sporting LA cop Jim Baxter (Malek) to figure out who is responsible; could professional creep Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) know anything about the fresh spate of killings? he certainly seems to know where the bodies are buried…
As a hard-boiled cop movie, The Little Things is reasonably compelling stuff, and a good watch at a time when commercial thrillers are rarely seen; yes, the story is familiar, but for a reason. It works, and it’s fun watching Deacon and Baxter brawl while playing a cat-and-mouse game with the killer. And while Leto and Malek are fine, Washington adds another effective entry to his roster of tough guys; the scenes in which he covertly raids Sparma’s house are certainly tense.
So The Little Things finally hits streaming in the UK with a different selling point; not the awards darling the cast seemed to suggest, it’s just an elevated Saturday night time-passer, well written and directed by Hooker. Without a race angle to snare awards traffic, it’s left to The Little Things to entertain the masses, and it passes muster on that front. With the cinematic year denuded of the big, populist films (from Dune to The French Dispatch to West Side Story to In The Heights) which would have filled the awards circuit with popular choices, I guess cinema fans have to be grateful for the little things, and Hancock’s absorbing if cliched film is more than enough to be going on with.
The Little Things is out now in the UK. Amazon streaming link and YouTube trailer below.
Thanks for Warner Brothers UK for advance screener access to this film.