Those detectives are on the trail of a serial killer when a former member of their ranks, Washington’s Joe “Deke” Deacon, pays them a visit from Kern County, where he’s working as a deputy sheriff. Deke, it turns out, was an elite crime-solver, before a case that triggered a “complete meltdown” and sent him retreating to the quieter rural confines to the north.
Deke meets Jim Baxter (Malek), a driven young detective who represents, in essence, an earlier version of himself. Squabbling and wary at first, as they gradually begin comparing notes they realize the two cases, then and now, might be linked, teaming up to see if they can close the books on them.
A bit like “Dirty Harry,” another relic of film’s serial-killer-hunting past, the moral dilemma turns to just how far the cops are willing to go — how many rules they’ll bend or break — in order to secure a conviction. The young cop/old cop dynamic is equally familiar, with Deke having sacrificed more than just his job on the altar of pursuing justice.
Like Leto, Washington is in his element here as the world-weary cop, so the only significant casting stretch involves Malek, who also happens to have the least-developed character. Ultimately, “The Little Things” meanders a bit too much with stakeouts and the drudgery of police work before getting to the meat of its psychological core, which offers a provocative payoff, if not perhaps one good enough to fully justify the journey.
Those big names make “The Little Things” marginally worth watching, but they still add up to a minor addition to a very well-trafficked genre.