The Little Things

The Little Things ★★★★½

Denzel hunting down a possible serial killer? Of course I’m going to love it. A 90s psychological thriller throwback - literally written back then - that cribs from every classic of the genre, but still manages to remain engrossing and surprising. Honestly not sure how this didn’t get made 25 years ago considering how popular the genre was back then. Doubly surprised this wasn’t pointlessly elongated into a six-episode miniseries.

What’s isn’t surprising is how this has already been labelled copaganda by multiple articles I read. While I had similar suspicions before seeing the film, I’ve got to heavily disagree on that count. There will be spoilers from here on. So, copaganda is usually defined as not only something that is pro-police, but literally propaganda to make people believe the police are a force for good, right? But in this film, both cops we follow throughly fuck up separate investigations. In flashback, Joe (Denzel) kills an innocent person, and gets it covered up. In the present, Jimmy (Malek) kills a man they suspect might be the killer, but have no evidence against. He gets it covered up. Plus, throughout the film both Joe and Jimmy frequently break the law, bypass warrants and abuse suspects to help their failing investigation. So that’s multiple laws broken and two murders, each covered up by them and their cop (or cop-adjacent) friends. That’s bad! But, this could still be considered copaganda is if these actions were shown to be “regrettable but necessary,” as this Slate review posits. But that isn’t the case. Joe is haunted by his mistake and in no way sees it as necessary. He’s desperate to solve this case to relieve himself of his own guilt. At one point he stares into his victim’s dead eyes and it’s the look of a man that knows karma will be around the corner eventually. And when Jimmy shoots Jared Leto’s suspected killer, neither he or Joe are like “fuck yeah, we got him.” Instead it’s desperation time as they cover it up and Jimmy keeps trying to convince himself that he's sure Leto was the guy and that his conscience is clear. This leads to Joe literally having to send Jimmy a red beret he purchased at a shop because he couldn’t find the real one in Leto’s apartment - which would have essentially proven Leto had something to do with Ronda’s disappearance - making it 50/50 at best whether Leto was even the killer! So…how are these people good cops? And how is the film saying their actions are “regrettable but necessary?” They’re two men who think they're good people because they’re positioned as “the good guys,” yet they frequently do bad things to try and aide their investigation, and then they thoroughly fuck up anyway. Joe even admits at one point that he’s not doing this to avenge the dead girls, he’s doing it for himself. These aren’t good people!

That Slate article does have some good points regarding the underwritten female characters, and especially in regards to Joe and Jimmy being a part of a real sheriff’s department - the LASD - that has numerous black marks to its name. As the article mentions, it would have made more sense to either set this in a Se7en-esque nameless city, or set it in LA but use a fictional police force (which admittedly would have still had its own problems). However like I said, I don’t think this film likes cops, so it shouldn’t be a problem that the force is a real one. That should only reinforce the fact that this sort of corruption and tunnel vision toward one suspect is very real. How many times has a cop shot an innocent person because they were convinced they were in danger, only to discover that the person wasn’t armed, and wasn’t a threat? That’s basically what this film is about, but in a very Hollywood, serial killer way. Two cops who are convinced they’ve got their guy but overlook evidence against their case - Leto confessed to a murder eight years ago that he didn’t do, and he’s a crime buff, so maybe he just likes the attention and enjoys fucking with cops - to convince themselves they are correct. And when the evidence turns against them, out goes the rule book, and out come the pistols. So, again, if this is copaganda, and if copaganda is defined as propaganda designed to make people believe the police is a force for good, then The Little Things, at least in my opinion, has thoroughly failed at it.

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