Can you imagine having written “The Little Things” and finished in 1993 then sitting in the theater to watch “Se7en” in 1995? If I were John Lee Hancock I may have cursed my way out of the theater… or maybe sat frozen in disbelief. He seems to have pursued the development of this story into a movie for nearly 28 years, yet it feels like he was paralyzed by David Fincher.
John Lee Hancock, to his own detriment, strives to emulate the style of David Fincher, in the cold color tones, framing of crime scenes, and with, at times, nonsensical or erratic editing (in Baxter’s home and when Deke and Baxter visit a bar, as examples). Where he could have explored influences from more modern crime thrillers (as you may hear us discuss in a few weeks on the ‘This Film Not Rated Podcast), Hancock seems to have locked into the idea that, since he must direct outside of story tones with which he is familiar, he must aim for the style that found success with what feels like his writing.
This story is unique. Without spoiling the concept, for a neo-noir murder mystery thriller, to this date I can’t think of another that willfully flirts with the same moral implications (maybe “Gone Baby Gone?”), and the characters are distinct. The nameless city and almost allegorical characters of “Se7en” are traded for Los Angeles and humans living in gray. Unfortunately, there is more time spent on scenes inevitably compared to “Se7en” than could what could have been explored in the transition of the mental state of Rami Malek’s ‘Detective Baxter’ or the vindication sought by Denzel Washington’s ‘Joe “Deke” Deacon.’ At times it feels like Mr. Hancock felt the ending would justify what was familiar, misleading the audience and hoping to leave them shocked… and it may have if he’d cared to justify some aspects of the narrative.
Simply put, If I’m a police officer and a suspect tells me he knows the location of a body, I am not going to dig where he tells me to dig, and no amount of human error can convince me to feel this is justified. It’s one of many symptoms of a disease that pervades the story. Deke seems more driven to be in Baxter’s role and if we had Baxter as a POV character to explore Deke’s psychology, and had Deke filled the third act role replacing Baxter, not only would this have felt less tied to “Se7en,” but we may have cared, based on the, at times, heavy hitting performance from Denzel Washington, to explore Deke. We could have walked with Baxter into the dark to find Deke. And then there’s Jared Leto…
Honestly, I don’t feel there’s much to say for him. In the movie they drop the “Night Stalker” moniker and if you’ve seen the brilliantly plotted and directed documentary on this serial killer recently dropped on Netflix, you’ll notice unsubtle similarities in their choices for his look, and some of his actions. In addition, the trial for Richard Ramirez (the “Night Stalker”) took place in 1989, four years before this story was completed… This feels calculated to encourage the audience to condemn Leto as quickly as possible, reinforcing my theory that Hancock became increasingly reliant on his ending to carry the story… after all, isn’t the ending all anyone could talk about with “Se7en”?
Believe it or not, “The Little Things,” is WELL worth one viewing, if only to study how someone can be driven to create something because of it’s relationship to the success of something else, or for the irony of it’s title since John Lee Hancock, in his determination to make one big point, miscalculated many little things.