Modern noir lives in “The Little Things”
Updated: Jun 24, 2022
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Denzel Washington stars as the aging Kern County Deputy Joe Deacon, a former Los Angeles County detective, who softly speaks to corpse Julie Brock (Tiffany Gonzalez), the latest victim in a series of killings in Southern California. Rami Malek plays young detective Jim Baxter, who addresses the media as the lead investigator in the murders.
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“THE LITTLE THINGS”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2021, R for violent/disturbing images, profanity, and full nudity; streaming via Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “A Contrast in Styles” featurette
IT’S ALWAYS a pleasure to watch Denzel Washington perform, and his latest outing in the crime thriller “The Little Things,” is no exception.
The film is set in 1990, so there’s no ubiquitous cell phone ownership, nor other tech advances such as GPS, etc., we take for granted today. Washington stars as the aging Detective Joe Deacon, known as Deke, who is asked to help investigate a series of murders in Los Angeles. Deke had once worked in the big city, but tragedy exiled him to the California hinterlands of Kern County, north of L.A., where an occasional visit from a dog, his memories and his regrets are all he has to keep him company.
Deke’s old job has recently been filled by a young detective, Jim Baxter, played by Rami Malek in a major departure from his role as Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Baxter is a soft-spoken, all-business kind of cop. He’s generous enough to welcome Deke into his search for the killer, but his determination to solve the case becomes obsessive. The prime suspect comes down to a loner with the unlovely name of Albert Sparma, played with almost caricaturish creepiness by Jared Leto, whose long stringy hair looks like it hasn’t been washed in a good while. Sparma is scrawny, except for a noticeable potbelly meant, one supposes, to add to his all-around repulsiveness.
(1) Deputy Deacon tells his dog goodbye before heading to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's office to pick up a pair of bloodstained boots as evidence for an upcoming court hearing. (2) The first encounter between Deacon and Baxter doesn't go well. Baxter is having Deacon's vehicle towed for blocking his car in the parking lot. (3) By nightfall Baxter asks Deacon to ride along to a murder scene that could be a victim of the serial killer. (4&5) Deacon gets involved in the investigation and in his hotel room he posts portraits and bios of three young women who were killed years earlier while he was a detective in L.A. County. (6) He continues to have flashbacks to the murder scene.
So, yes, “The Little Things” is, in many ways, a formula murder drama in which the killer is hunted by a seen-it-all, worn-out elderly cop, partnered with an enthusiastic young one. Nevertheless, the well-written screenplay, by director/producer John Lee Hancock, (“The Blind Side,” “Saving Mr. Banks”) and the uniformly sharp performances by the actors keep you watching and guessing until the rather implausible, but nonetheless satisfying, climax.
As COVID-19 continued into 2021, Warner Brothers decided to premiere its complete theatrical slate for the year on HBO Max and theaters. “The Little Things” was no exception. It opened on January 29 in 4K with the expansive Dolby Atmos soundtrack and was also made available through streaming on the same day. After 30 days on HBO, it moved to VOD and the half-dozen digital platforms for purchase and rental – all in 4K except Amazon.
Sadly, physical disc lovers only get the 1080p Blu-ray, which still looks very good, but can’t stand up to the quality of the digital presentation – especially since it was captured on 8K digital cameras (2.39:1 aspect ratio) and mastered in TRUE 4K.
The onscreen 4K clarity is obvious from the numerous close-ups of Washington and Malek, to distant nighttime shots, as the lead characters arrive at the murder scene of another young woman.
The HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading give dark scenes more depth with its deep black levels. It also provides a higher peak brightness – evident from the cops’ flashlights as they search for clues in a dark room and during a late-night murder scene under a bridge. Facial toning for the diverse cast is natural and realistic, without the yellow tint found on the Blu-ray.
(1) Stan Peters (Frederick Koehler) a possible suspect in the killings is questioned by Baxter, with Deacon on the other side of the one-way glass. (2) Baxter's partner Detective Jamie Estrada (Natalie Morales) provides some information. (3&4) Deacon follows a possible suspect Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) to a bridge near milepost 467 in Ventura County. (5) Baxter gets upset with Criminalist F. Byrnes.
The majority of the digital platforms provide the enveloping eight-channel Dolby Atmos for height speakers. There are plenty of effects and music cues from the score by 15-time Oscar-nominated composer Thomas Newman (“1917,” “Skyfall,” “WALLˑE”). It’s an excellent counterpoint to the drama.
The Blu-ray is relegated to a six-channel DTS-HD Master soundtrack, which is still top-notch, only missing that extra level of audio fullness.
Disc and digital each offer two bonus features: a documentary about the four times Denzel Washington played policemen (so far) in his film career, and a comparison of those portrayals.
“The Contrast of Styles” contrasts the acting approach of Washington and Malek. It also serves as a brief making-of featurette. Washington calls Joe Deacon “the guy who shows up late.” Hancock sees his film as a kind of “stew you’re trying to cook,” and enjoyed the interaction between Washington and Malek in front of the cameras, excited to “see them combine their chemistries.”
Malek says “As much as they butt heads, [Deke and Baxter] have so much in common,” such as “perseverance and dedication to solving the crime.” Leto calls Washington “one of the Titans,” and recalls “what a thrill it was to be on set with him, create with him, and watch a master work.” Adding to the lavish praise for Washington, Hancock mentions the various takes the actor does for scenes, in which he “gives a ton of choices,” many of which are “surprising and great.”
Producer Mark Johnson (“Rain Man,” “The Rookie”) calls Washington “one of the two or three legit movie stars on screen.” Leto describes his character as “highly intelligent” and believes he “enjoys interacting with Deke.” Malek says Baxter is “unlike any other character I’ve played … a challenge,” and that he “wanted to pick Denzel’s brain about everything.” For Washington, “an actor is like a detective; peeling back layers to get to the character … to solve the crime.”
— Peggy Earle
(1) Baxter and Deacon both question Sparma. (2&3) The investigation leads from the city to a rural area of L.A. County. (4&5) Baxter and Deacon say their goodbyes and the deputy returns to Kern County.