After Denzel’s latest police drama leaves us cold, we open the cold case on three of his better thrillers.
The Little Things (2021)
Deputy Sheriff Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel Washington) joins forces with Sgt. Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) to search for a serial killer who’s terrorizing Los Angeles. As they track the culprit, Baxter is unaware that the investigation is dredging up echoes of Deke’s past, uncovering disturbing secrets that could threaten more than his case.
To The Point.
The Little Things is a tough movie to work up any real feeling for. The cast is talented, but they’re not exactly breaking the mold on bog standard crime thriller fare. The movie is overlong and flabby, but not egregiously so. Director John Lee Hancock lingers over details a bit long and repeats information we could easily have gotten from a tighter script and selection of scenes.
As a thriller, it checks all the boxes, but makes you aware that you’re watching boxes get checked. I love a good crime thriller…and this is merely a passable one. Nice cinematography and two leads who are trying to will some intrigue and emotion into a flat story just can’t get this old horse over the finish line in time to take a prize.
On that Note…
See It Instead Bonus Picks!
In the 90’s and early 2000’s, Denzel racked up an impressive clearance rate for police dramas, ranging from the dead serious to the cuckoo bananas. While in my book Morgan Freeman will always be the king of the “catch a serial killer” drama, Denzel certainly left a large footprint on the genre. Here are three of my favorites.
The Serial Killer Hunter Pick: The Bone Collector (1999)
Policewoman Amelia Donaghy (Angelina Jolie) is in hot pursuit of a serial murderer whose calling card is a small shard of bone extracted from each of his victims. Unable to decipher the cryptic clues the killer leaves behind at the scene of the crime, Amelia calls upon quadriplegic forensic criminology expert Lincoln Rhyme (Denzel Washington) to help. With Amelia acting as Rhyme’s able-bodied go-between, the pair piece together disparate clues, hoping they will learn who the next victim is.
Getting out in front, The Bone Collector is not a great movie. It is a thoroughly enjoyable and suitably creepy cops vs. serial killer thriller. Washinton and Jolie work well together, which is impressive as they mostly communicate digitally since Denzel’s character is housebound. The villain is suitably cryptic and his methods appropriately disturbing. The nuts and bolts of how our heroes collar the baddie hold up to scrutiny, even on repeat viewings.
The Bone Collector may not join the pantheon of catch-a-killer legends like Silence of the Lambs or Se7en, but it’s a solid entry into the genre with a stellar cast and some nice wrinkles on the formula.
The Bad Cop Pick: Training Day (2001)
A rookie cop (Ethan Hawke) spends his first day as a Los Angeles narcotics officer with a rogue detective (Denzel Washinton) who isn’t what he appears to be.
Now Training Day, on the other hand, is pretty much the opposite of The Bone Collector. Despite star power, I never really felt Ethan Hawke felt believable next to the volcanic explosion that was Denzel’s performance. The film doesn’t hold up particularly well on repeat viewings; the whipsaw pace allows you to gloss over the more obviously ridiculous plot holes the first time through.
What the film does have, in spades, is Denzel Washington just putting on a bib and eating his way through the scenery. Training Day may not be a great film, but Detective Alonso Harris is a great character and Denzel plays him to the hilt. His bad cop bravado paved the way for truly great drama’s like The Wire.
The Unconventional Pick: Fallen (1998)
After witnessing the execution of serial killer Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas), whom he arrested, police detective John Hobbes (Denzel Washington), and his partner, Jonesy (John Goodman), are soon investigating another murderer whose mode of operation is eerily similar to Reese’s.
Guilty pleasure time. Fallen is a kinda a nutty flick, played dead seriously. We got a suitably creepy serial killer…who is promptly executed. Then his evil spirit comes back to commit more murders, via a mechanic where it can hop to anyone its host touches. It’s totally bonkers, but hear me out:
It’s a good movie, and the whole demon hopscotch mechanic makes the film riveting as hell. Just like in It Follows, anyone in any scene could be the killer sneaking up on our heroes. That’s a damn dangerous game of cat and mouse.
On top of the actual mechanics, you have to great leads here. Denzel is Denzel, so you expect he’s going to bring the intensity to his role. John Goodman was a revelation, as I’d only seen him in sitcoms and, well, The Big Lebowski, also a 1998 release. His gruff and dogged sidekick performance here sure was a million miles away from King Ralph.