The Little Things

The Little Things ★★½

Here's a little thing about The Little Things.

Somewhere near the midpoint of the film, Denzel Washington's "Deke" Deacon is tailing Jared Leto (wearing what might be a discarded Inspector Clouseau disguise from one of The Pink Panther films); you all have seen it in the trailer - Leto pulls up besides Washington and attempts to be creepy by mumbling a line about trunk space that Washington said previously. Oooooo!

Anyway, what makes this scene work - and why a lot of reviewers are complimenting the way The Little Things reheats tired material pretty well - is John Lee Hancock's workman talent for basic cinematic storytelling. The scene takes place on a nondescript highway and hinges on a gimmick where Leto's character keeps moving his car to the opposite side of the highway when Deke tries to follow him. This could easily be a visually and spatially confusing idea to get across, since both sides of the interstate - when only seen in the background of a medium single on Washington - look pretty identical. But Hancock gets "the little things," the subconscious details that clue the viewer in, absolutely right.

First off, we see the side of the highway where Leto and his car start the scene three times: when he first stops on the shoulder, when Deke reverses his car to that same spot, and when Deke looks back at it from the other side of the highway. Hancock, his cinematographer, and his production designer cleverly place an oil derrick in the background, a visual signifier that the viewer registers for that side of the highway. When we see from Deke's POV looking at Leto's car on the opposite side, it's framed by the concrete divider, clarifying that we're not seeing a flashback or Leto somewhere further up the road, but across from Washington. Then the coup de grâce, a wide, bird's eye view overhead shot clearly establishing the spatial dynamics: Leto's green car on the left, Washington's blue car on the right (the oil derrick side). Beautiful in its simplicity and clarity.

Oh, and if you haven't heard, cops and killers are, like, inversions of one another and could have been friends in a different life yadda yadda yadda, so the symmetry of that overhead shot? Thematic.

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