‘The Little Things’ Summary & Ending, Explained – The Past Becomes The Future


The past becomes the future, becomes the past, becomes the future, becomes the past.” This is what Dep. Deke (Denzel Washington) tells Detective Jim (Rami Malek). This is the theme explored in The Little Things, a neo-noir crime thriller film where officers from 2 generations are trying to catch a psycho serial criminal. A criminal who has impacted or it would be better suited to say that has created havoc in both their lives.

Written and Directed by John Lee Hancock, The Little Things runs heavy on performance. It stars Denzel, Malek, and a chameleon you might not be able to recognize. It’s Leo, Jared Leto.

‘The Little Things’ Summary

Set in the 1990s, the whole narrative is chase and run into the abyss. Deputy sheriff Joe “Deke” Deacon is trialing a psycho killer for a long time, who is suspected of murdering 3 women in cold blood. When a similar pattern of killings arises in LA, he is sent by his senior officer to look into the case, though Joe can’t officially investigate it because of a haunting past. His seniors in LAPD are of the opinion that Deke has become obsessed with the serial killer and has himself turned into a psycho. He should retire and take a rest.

When Deke meets the investigating officer, detective Jimmy Baxter, he finds in him a young agitated blood who could run miles to catch the serial killer. Deke fumes the curiosity in Jimmy while they try to catch a killer. The interesting neo-noir experiment with the narrative is Deke’s own past that keeps haunting his present. He tells the same to Jimmy that these cold-blooded murders have become a lifelong responsibility for him. He owes them.  Deke quotes, “Word to the wise, Jimmy. Stay out of the angel business.

Deke doesn’t want Jimmy to become the protector, a saint like Deke himself has become. What all it brought to him through these years is guilt, depression, a sense of un-accomplishment, and loneliness. He doesn’t want the same for Jimmy.

Through Deke’s own peculiar ways of investigating the “the minute details” as he says, “It’s the little things that are important Jimmy. It’s the little things that get you caught,” they both catch a suspect name Sparma (Jared Leto). But is Sparma really the killer? Well, there is literally no evidence till the end but yet Deke and Jimmy manage till the end, leading to a “Seven” kind of a conclusion.

Major Spoilers Ahead

Jared Leto as Sparma

The Little Things is a powerhouse of acting performances. Denzel, Malik, and Leto, three Oscar-winning actors in one picture, and sometimes in one frame. The feeling itself deserves an Oscar nomination. However, my next few sentences might be a bit controversial or perceptual. Jared Leto nails the act. If acting is about getting soaked in a character’s skin, then Leto is a demigod of acting. Daniel Day-Lewis still holds the position of a god. But really, you might fail to recognize or spot Leto in the film until someone draws a red circle on his head. He is in actual sense, a chameleon.

The reason The Little Things fails to make an impact is because of a weak script. The actors have done their best to uplift the drama and thrill but on the core level, the script offers nothing new. The end and the philosophy attached to the climax is titillating but the journey isn’t much. Only if the script was much more layered with twists and turns, drama, or something innovative, like an active antagonist, the film could have made a deeper impact. On a broad level, I feel, as an antagonist, the talent of Leto was heavily wasted.

‘The Little Things’ Ending Explained

Joe Deacon lived a guilt-ridden life. Firstly, he wasn’t able to find the killer of the innocent souls for which he felt responsible as a guardian or angel. Secondly, he killed an innocent girl himself, by mistake. When Joe meets Jimmy, he observes a similar expression of guilt on Jimmy’s face, the feeling of helplessness and not being able to catch the killer. Jimmy even quotes, “The past becomes the future, becomes the past.

The lines are synonymous with the very fact that history is going to repeat itself and Jimmy is going to become the next Joe Deacon. Joe tries hard to stop the turn of events but he fails. Out of anger and frustration, Jimmy hits Sparma on his head with a spade. Sparma dies, without any evidence of being a criminal. For Jimmy, this night becomes a living hell until Joe comes for his help.

Joe Deacon erases Sparma’s existence. He burns off his items, hands his car to the punks, and empties his apartment. But the most important task is to erase the guilt from Jimmy’s consciousness.

Joe before leaving LA advises Jimmy not to ponder into the past, not to look out for Sparma’s file again, or try to investigate or he will dig his own doom. Joe quotes, “It’s the little things that rip you apart, It’s the little things that get you caught.

Days after leaving LA, Joe sends an envelope to Jimmy that contains a red barrette worn by Rathbun (one of the girls that were murdered in LA). Rathbun wore the same red barrette on the night of her disappearance as told to Jimmy by her parents. Jimmy thinks Joe found this in Sparma’s hidden box. He is relieved that he didn’t kill an innocent man after all.

However, this red barrette was bought off by Joe from a store and it wasn’t the actual evidence. Joe saved Jimmy from becoming another version of Joe. Joe burns off the remains of Sparma along with the extra barrette to conceal what he has done, till eternity and more. He grants a peaceful life to Jimmy, which he couldn’t have.

Was Sparma, the real psycho killer? Well, there is no way to decipher. The film ends soon after Sparma’s death. Only if the timelines would have extended, and thus hinted at the occurrence of the killings after Sparma’s death. If the killings would have continued, then Sparma wasn’t the killer but if they would have stopped, then, maybe he could have done it. However, this a hypothetical theory because the film doesn’t answer these questions. It just hints in the end, through a newly assigned officer, that the killer had the same lifestyle as Sparma. But so as, so many junkies out there.

The film has its intention in the right place. It’s a good film but not a great one. Mostly because it runs on some cliche drama and the same storyline/plot. The characters are interesting for a bit, but we have seen them in Fincher’s  Seven, and it is still a masterpiece. Only if the film tried to do something extra or unique, something crazy and not just following a defined path, I believe it had the potential and the cast for becoming a great film. In my opinion, the film felt like a mechanical project rather than a piece of art, which is its greatest flaw.

Still, if you like to watch a slow-building thriller encompassing some great performances, then do watch this intriguing neo-noir drama.

The Little Things is streaming on HBO Max.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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