After the credits rolled on John Lee Hancock’s film The Little Things I was wishing I had watched Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, or the first season of True Detective instead, but just shrugged and went to sleep. When I went back to work the next day, several people asked me if I had seen the new Denzel movie. When I said I had, they proceeded to talk about it and ask questions, one conversation revolved around the cast, which was indeed very good, with Oscar winners like Denzel, and Leto and Malek all coming to play, but most seem woefully miscast. Another conversation with a different co-worker regarded the ending, which I will not spoil, but they didn’t get it and when I explained it, they got it, but cared even less about the decision than they did after they saw it.
The last conversation I had about this film which is the one that sparked interest in writing about it at all was with someone who wanted to know what else that director had done, when I looked back at his career I realized I have seen all of John Lee Hancock’s previous six films. What struck me was how they were all based on true stories, and how they all had pretty weak endings. I remembered how The Rookie and Saving Mr. Banks ended, but for the life of me I could not remember how The Blindside, The Founder, The Highwaymen, or The Alamo ended. Which in of itself is kinda bad seeing as how I live in Texas, and everyone knows that all of them died in the battle of the Alamo.
This is all not to say that I don’t like Hancock’s films, I actually like most of them, they were very entertaining, and not gonna lie, I still tear up watching The Rookie. However, I think maybe he lived in those kinds of stories for so long that when it came to The Little Things his first film NOT based on a true story, it still has that feel to it. Think about it, most “based on a true story” films do in fact have weak endings, mostly because if the main character or characters don’t die by the end of the filmed story it’s like real life, it goes on, and also like life it’s kinda boring to go past the drama when nothing else much happens. It seems Hancock applied the same principle here in Things where we are kinda left with a dissatisfying ending that feels like it was based on a real murder case where the killer may or may have not been caught.
I do get that Hancock did not want to make a typical 90’s ‘cop-chase-serial-killer’ film, and that he was going for subversion. I just don’t think he achieved that goal, as proved by the conversations I had with average moviegoers. The people I talked to had not seen what I had seen over the past 30 years. They didn’t sit through Silence os the Lambs, Jennifer 8, Striking Distance, Kalifornia, Se7en, Copycat, Nightwatch, Kiss the Girls, Funny Games, Fallen, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Bone Collector, 8MM, Eye of the Beholder, Summer of Sam, In Dreams, and Zodiac. They also probably have not seen every ‘Denzel-chases-killer/or killers’ film, like Ricochet, Virtuosity, Fallen (again), The Bone Collector (again), Out of Time, Man on Fire, Deja Vu, and The Equalizer films.
So why did Hancock go the way he did? He had no doubt seen at least some of the movies listed above, and I get not wanting to go with the killer walking up to the detectives saying “Detective!…You’re looking for me.” That’s not the movie he wanted to make, again I get it, so if he was trying to go for Se7en set in the real world with real world unsatisfying ending, then there he did succeed. But that’s not why we watch and get into those other films about cops chasing a serial killer. We watch for the cat and mouse of it all. Especially if this was written in the 90’s which is also the time that it is set in. Why go on this journey if the killer is irrelevant? I could armchair quarterback this thing and take what I’ve seen in other films and books apply it to this story, but if I could do that, I should have done it back then.
Hancock went for something here, I just didn’t get what he was going for. After talking to one of my co-workers again about the film, he mentioned that the movie is way better the second time around. Sadly, I’ll never see if he’s right.