The Little Things

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Little Things Movie Poster Image
Flawed but well-made, violent, bloody serial killer tale.
  • R
  • 2021
  • 127 minutes

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 9 reviews

Kids say

age 16+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Movie is mainly about covering things up, lying, becoming obsessed and putting the object of obsession ahead of things like family.

Positive Role Models

Two main characters are police officers but aren't positive role models. One is covering up a dreadful secret that's ruined his life, the other looks to be heading down that road. Movie was originally written in early 1990s, well before #MeToo movement, and you can tell: Women are generally either sidelined or victimized.


Bloody corpse. Blood spatters. Dead bodies. One character hits another in the head with a shovel. Gory crime scene photos. Woman threatened by unseen stalker.


Fully exposed naked female corpses. Brief view of naked breasts on female corpse. Sex workers on sidewalk in front of cheap hotel. Sex-related dialogue.


Many uses of "f--k," plus "s--t," "son of a bitch," "damn," "bastard," "d--k," "butt," "balls," and "boned."


Black Angus steakhouse shown. Busch beer shown.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Main characters have a drink in a bar. Background drinking. Mention of having a "few beers."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Little Things is a serial killer thriller starring three Oscar winners: Denzel Washington as a deputy sheriff, Rami Malek as an LAPD detective, and Jared Leto as a possible killer. Expect to see images of dead bodies -- including several female corpses shown either topless or fully naked -- as well as blood spatters and gory crime scene photos. One character hits another in the head with a shovel, and a woman is threatened by an unseen stalker. Sex workers are shown, and there's some sex-related dialogue. Language is strong, with many uses of "f--k," plus "s--t," "son of a bitch," and more. The main characters have a drink in a bar, and background drinking is shown or mentioned. Despite a handful of flaws, the movie's sturdy, classical direction and Washington's performance make it worth a look for mature viewers.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bySamrie February 26, 2021

Great slow burn thriller

I liked it a lot. The violence and nudity were certainly NOT gratuitous. Be prepared for the type of movie that doesn’t give you definite answers. There are iss... Continue reading
Adult Written bymartineque January 6, 2022


I have no idea at all why one review says lots of gratuitous nudity - really? Throughout the whole film you see a very small amount, for less than a second each... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byidk_1771 January 29, 2021

Won't Appeal to Everyone, But I Enjoyed

I'm 15 and I watched this movie. Be it, I was on my phone for some of the more disturbing parts, specifically at the beginning because I don't really... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byDogcat January 31, 2021

What's the story?

In THE LITTLE THINGS, it's the early 1990s, and Joe "Deke" Deacon (Denzel Washington) is a deputy sheriff in Bakersfield, California, working uneventful cases like a vandalized steakhouse sign. He's ordered to drive into Los Angeles to pick up some evidence, even though he seems to have a strained history with members of the LAPD. With the evidence tangled up in red tape, Deke is forced to stay longer than intended. Visiting a crime scene, he impresses detective Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek) by discovering an important clue in a serial killer case. The two men set their sights on creepy repairman Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) as the likeliest suspect. Deke gets more and more obsessed with catching the killer, while Jimmy starts following the same dangerous path.

Is it any good?

This thriller suffers from somewhat jarring plot turns, some overcooked performances, and other flaws, but the sturdy, classical direction and Washington's anguished performance make it worth seeing. The Little Things is something of a departure for writer-director John Lee Hancock. In his clean, classical style, he usually makes bright, positive movies about ambition and achievement (Saving Mr. Banks, The Founder, etc.), but this one, which was originally written at the beginning of his career in the early 1990s, is more about obsession. It withholds information, rather than sharing. Perhaps for that reason -- or perhaps because it doesn't adequately establish its rules -- the movie's big reveal doesn't feel entirely smooth, and it's slightly unsatisfying.

Another drawback of a movie written in the early 1990s is that the female characters are underdeveloped. Plus, Oscar winners Malek and Leto are both guilty of slightly overcooked performances. Leto's eyes appear sunken in, to emphasize his creepiness, while Malek tends to mumble his dialogue, Marlon Brando-style (probably because he's been given mostly exposition). But Washington is excellent, carrying a heavy burden and using every inch of his frame to show the weight and pain of it. And Hancock's direction is as skillful as ever. While his movies are usually full of bright daylight, The Little Things makes fine, mysterious use of darkness (and peering through it with flashlights or ultraviolet light), for an effectively shadowy mood.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Little Thingsviolence. How did it make you feel? What's the difference between violence that's thrilling and violence that's gruesome or shocking? What's the impact of media violence on kids?

  • How are women represented and portrayed in the movie? Are there better roles for women in today's movies than there were in the early 1990s, when this was originally written? 

  • What's the appeal of movies about serial killers? Why are they so fascinating?

  • Does the movie glamorize alcohol? Are there consequences for drinking?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

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